Coping With Destitution: Survival and livelihood strategies of refused asylum seekers living in the UK

Publication date

02 Feb 2011

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Coping with Destitution uncovers how the hundreds of thousands of refused asylum seekers currently living in the UK, with no access to legitimate means of securing a livelihood, survive on a day-to-day and longer-term basis. The strategies adopted by destitute asylum seekers have been analysed within a sustainable livelihoods framework, to ensure a systematic understanding of the different types of resources to which asylum seekers do – and do not – have access, and the impact this has on their lives. This approach also helped to identify changes to government policy that could help prevent destitution among refused asylum seekers. Fundamentally, the need to remain hidden and to avoid any risk of being deported affects every decision made by destitute asylum seekers, and in turn the coping strategies which they adopt. The survival strategies adopted by destitute asylum seekers are a consequence of asylum policy in the UK. That hundreds of thousands of people would rather live in poverty and in constant fear of deportation – reliant on friends, transactional relationships, commercial sex work or low-paid illegal work – rather than return to their country of origin, suggests the failure of government policy. It is not acceptable for asylum seekers to continue to live in destitution, and the government has a responsibility to ensure that the human rights of asylum seekers are upheld. The humiliating and degrading strategies adopted by destitute asylum seekers to survive and avoid deportation reflects the need for changes to government and civil-society policy and practice. All aspects of the asylum system – including the flawed asylum-determination process that often leads to wrongful denial of asylum, and policies that deny access to resources (such as the right to work and access to welfare support) – must be urgently reviewed to ensure that all asylum seekers are able to secure a sustainable and dignified livelihood.