The British Government’s ‘Hostile Environment’ policies mean that destitution is ingrained into the UK asylum system; destitution is forced, it destroys people’s sense of self and renders them invisible. Such isolation irrevocably damage’s peoples’ mental health and make integration impossible. It has been proven that the Home Office approves grants protection on a quota system and someone may be lucky enough to get refugee status when his friend from the exact same situation may be refused refugee status. Being refused asylum and having your appeal rights exhausted means that you have no recourse to public funds, meaning that you cannot possibly support yourself. You will have no roof over your hear and you will not be able to buy yourself food or essential items. If you are lucky you may be able to rely on the goodwill of charities like the Red Cross to survive, but not everyone is so fortunate. Destitution is a fight for survival which forces good people down a path of crime. Today I will share with you a story of one of the forgotten people that are destitute asylum seekers.
Mr M is one of our community members who fled from Libya when his village was attacked by the Janjaweed militia. He escaped and sought protection in the UK in 2015. Unfortunately his claim was refused and he exhausted his appeal rights after three attempts. This meant that he was kicked out of his home and the small amount of money that he depended on to survive was stopped. He was lucky to have some friends who allowed him to stay at their homes for a short time but this created problems with their housing associations. He constantly had to move around the city and did not know where he would be sleeping each night. He slept in churches, on the street, and in shelters if he was lucky. His life lost all hope as he had absolutely nothing after coming here in search of safety and protection. He became seriously mentally ill as his desperation to survive grew. He struggled to survive and with no other options, he took up a job where he was paid £3 a hour for extremely hard labour and other times he was not paid at all. He was badly exploited because of his immigration status. You may hear about ‘Modern Slavery’ as a distant evil of an uncivilised foreign land, or you may be familiar with The Modern Slavery Act as Theresa May’s great success as Home Secretary. But I can guarantee you people are forced into these situations of extreme exploitation on your very streets, ironically exploitation forced upon people by the Home Office.
Mr M lost all dignity and was not treated with a shred of humanity. His struggle to survive resulted in Mr M stealing the bicycle from a Syrian refugee. This crime was reported to the community by an Arabic shopkeeper and we found Mr M and took the bike back to its owner before it was reported to the police. We do not want to be stereotyped as criminals, we are decent hard-working people.
We contacted a mental health charity to support Mr M and also found some of his relatives in another city. After we released him into the care of his relatives he returned to Glasgow after two months as he found this difficult and wanted to be in Glasgow. He has very little support here but we try to help him as much as we can to prevent him from getting into crime. We put him up in a friend’s home but this was only short term as the friend got reunited with his wife from Sudan and Mr M could no longer live there.
After this he disappeared for three months and the community became very concerned for his safety. We investigated and found out that he had been arrested by the police and put in jail for trying to steal something. This man has been forced by the Home Office into a situation of complete destitution so much so that he is forced to steal food and money to survive.
Although the Scottish Government does not have any power over the Home Office and the asylum process, they have a duty to treat all human beings equally and fairly. No human being is illegal and no human being deserves this degrading treatment. Mr M fled from conflict and arrived here after a dangerous journey expecting to be safe. Instead he has been treated less than human and now has become a shadow of his former self. His mental health is very poor and he is now a criminal.
But before you condemn this man for stealing a bike to raise some money to feed himself, I would like you to ask yourself:
What you would do if you had to flee from your home, leaving your loved ones to seek safety in a foreign land? To arrive in this foreign land only to be branded a liar and forced to live in poverty, before being thrown out of your accommodation, without a single penny and without any grasp of the language. Alone, confused and terrified. What would you do then?