Second Opinion - Reality bites for UK asylum seekers

Dave Smith, from the Boaz Trust, sets out the facts on the often misunderstood situation for asylum seekers in the UK

Many people don’t know the truth about asylum.

Few newspapers tell it like it really is, and the tabloids portray asylum seekers as illegal, bogus, here for our benefits, jobs, housing and healthcare – and swamping the country.

So, what is the truth? In 2011 around 25,000 people claimed asylum in this country – that’s one side of Wembley Stadium. The UK takes just two per cent of the world’s refugees. Pakistan and Iran have 2.75 million Afghan refugees.

Our asylum seekers come from countries with appalling human rights, such as Sudan, China and Iran; from lawless countries such as Somalia; brutal dictatorships such as Zimbabwe and Eritrea; or places we’ve bombed, such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

Having escaped the horrors of their homeland, the UK refuses asylum to around half of them – even after appeal. At that point they have two choices – go ‘home’ voluntarily with some financial support – or destitution.

Around 80 per cent opt for destitution. Some risk jail by working illegally. Others rely on friends or charities for support.

Some end up in servitude or prostitution. Nationwide there are from 50,000 to 100,000 destitute asylum seekers.

Health issues abound and healthcare professionals should be aware of the associated concerns.

Those with HIV are at most risk, and mental health is fragile. The biggest problem is severe depression. Meanwhile, physiotherapy is a vital service for those who have been victims of torture.

I was pleased to be invited to the CSP’s Annual Representative Conference in February, where I talked about this patient group.

The Boaz Trust is one of nearly 30 organisations that help to tackle asylum destitution.

Yet the real answer is nothing less than a radical change to an inhumane system that refuses asylum to those who are genuinely at risk if returned home.


Dave Smith is director of the Boaz Trust

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Dave Smith is director of the Boaz Trust

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