Thousands of people who have fled some of the world's most dangerous countries are being forced into destitution, begging and prostitution on British streets because they cannot be sent back, the Home Office is warned today.
A large majority of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan and Zimbabwe are refused asylum, but very few are forcibly returned because their home countries will not accept them or because immigration officers lose track of them.
In a bleak report, the Refugee Council says nearly 25 per cent of failed asylum-seekers who approached it for emergency help over the last two years were from those five countries.
Most do not qualify for state support or housing once their asylum applications have been rejected unless they can demonstrate they are planning to leave.
But the charity says many are too frightened to return because of the grim human rights situations in their homelands and end up living in the shadows in Britain.
“This can force people into street homelessness, begging and sex work. Women who are destitute are particularly exposed to the risk of further violence or exploitation in the UK,” it warns.
“In our experience of working with women in the asylum system, many will have faced violence in their own country or during their flight to safety.
“Arrival in the UK should signal safety but when women's claims for asylum are refused and they are made destitute, they continue to be exposed to the risk of further violence or exploitation in the UK.”
Others rely on family, friends and charity for help or work illegally in the hidden economy to raise enough money for food and shelter.
“They fear returning so much that many take the difficult decision to stay in the UK, often making huge personal sacrifices in doing so,” the report says.
“Having exhausted their appeal rights, refused asylum seekers usually have no access to financial support or accommodation, and are left living in destitution and without access to basic services.
“This includes pregnant women, for whom destitution is particularly serious given the health implications for themselves and the future health of their children.”
In the report, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, published to mark Human Rights Day today, the Refugee Council urges the Government to offer rejected asylum-seekers from such nations a special form of protection until their home countries are considered safe for their return.
To underline the point, it says women and girls face mass rape and sexual violence from the army, police and militia groups in the DRC, opponents of Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party in Zimbabwe risk murder and torture, while civilians in Somalia suffer indiscriminate attacks both by government forces and insurgent militias.
Lisa Doyle, the Refugee Council's advocacy manager, said: “For many people, the horrifying situations that caused them to flee their countries in the first place very much remain a reality. It is no wonder many people fear returning and make the difficult decision to stay here, far from family and with few rights.”
Nyasha's family has paid a heavy price for its involvement in the opposition MDC in Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe's supporters killed her brother, badly beat up her elderly father and raped her.
Leaving two sons behind, she claimed asylum in 2007. She was refused permission to stay the following year and further application was turned down in 2010.
The only accommodation she was offered was more than 200 miles away from London where she had been living. Now she shares a cramped flat with her grown-up daughter who has a child of her own.
Nyasha* says: “I don't have anything and have to rely on my daughter. It's a very difficult situation. Money is a real problem.
“I'm always sick – I'm on tablets for high blood pressure. To be here five years without doing anything is very depressing.
“When I think about it I feel like crying. But my position is a bit better than other people because I have my daughter. But other people are really, really suffering – some rely on friends and live in churches.”
*Nyasha's is a pseudonym