What is it like to be a refugee and homeless in the UK?


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Asylum seekers and refugees have already been through unimaginable trauma to get to the UK in order to seek protection.  Unfortunately, their hardships often don’t end there. Many will make the attempt to flee uncertainty and conflict, only to arrive at more uncertainty regarding housing and settled status in another country. 

There so many misconceptions about what happens when refugees come to the UK - the notion that they’re being funded to stay in nice hotels being just one. The reality of course, is quite different, and in November 2023, it was reported that as many as 50,000 refugees could be left homeless in the UK if government support isn’t implemented. 

High numbers in temporary accommodation 

Tens of thousands of refugees are currently in Home Office temporary accommodation. Changes to the ‘move on’ period mean that many are being told to leave with as little as seven days' notice (formally 28 days)

In many instances, this leaves people desperate to find accommodation at very short notice. Most are having to turn to private accommodation due to a dire lack of social housing

But with so much demand for rented housing and sky-high rents, it’s easy to see how many refugees are left destitute and homeless. 

Accessing benefits and support 

While there is advice out there for refugees around their next steps after leaving temporary accommodation, it’s not always that easy to take action due to a number of barriers. 

Leaving temporary accommodation isn’t easy for anyone, but not knowing the language, a lack of internet access and lack of funds for transport may all contribute to refugees having difficulty accessing the right support. Lack of English language provisions in particular makes it extremely difficult for many refugees to find suitable employment and integrate into their new communities. 

Organisations like PAFRAS provide vital support to refugees and asylum seekers - offering a range of services from warm meals to interpreters. 

Risk of exploitation, trafficking and harm  

Refugees and asylum seekers are some of the most at risk of exploitation and human trafficking - particularly if their settled status is in question. Various organisations have criticised the government’s asylum process, calling out inadequate screening of those who are most vulnerable and potential victims of exploitation. 

The process has also recently come under fire for conducting a number of age assessments wrongly. Over 1,000 children were incorrectly aged by the Home Office over 18 months and placed in adult accommodation. This left them at risk of significant harm, including violence and sexual abuse. 

There’s also a call for the government to provide a level of aftercare to refugees who are being moved on from Home Office accommodation - getting them set up with a bank account, a National Insurance number and in stable, safe accommodation for instance. In an ideal world, this additional support will mean refugees can safely find their way into employment and reduce their risk of falling into exploitative situations or even becoming victims of human trafficking. 

It’s clear the system as it stands often makes what is an already impossibly difficult and traumatic situation even more challenging for many families fleeing conflict. Our outreach team work hard to support those experiencing homelessness in West Yorkshire, often signposting them to organisations like PAFRAS to help them take back control of their situation and look to a more positive future. 

If you’d like to support our work, you can donate here.

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