Gary Christie: The drive to end homelessness must include asylum seekers

In JUST over two months, Scotland is due to reach a milestone, as the Scottish Government reaches the deadline to uphold its promise to give everyone the right to a permanent home by the end of 2012.

Whether the dream of eradicating homelessness can be realised is still to be seen. However, for people seeking asylum – who flee countries with human rights abuses, including Iran, Eritrea and Zimbabwe, but find their cases refused by the UK government and their support stopped – this dream doesn’t yet apply.

Destitution may seem like a problem of the developing world, but, according to research by Glasgow Caledonian University’s Scottish Poverty Information Unit, hundreds of refused asylum seekers in Scotland are living on nothing. Unable to go home, either because they still fear for their lives, or their governments won’t co-operate with the UK, they live in limbo.

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The poverty they face is extreme. Destitute asylum seekers receive £0, which means their income does not even meet the United Nations’ Millennium Development goal for everyone to receive at least $1.25 a day. They face hunger, homelessness and despair.

The asylum system is not working – some people do not get a fair hearing, while others are not granted the protection they deserve. One in four people make successful appeals when their cases are refused. And while we accept that some will have no protection needs, starving them out is neither humane, nor effective. The reality is hundreds of people are choosing destitution over return to countries where they fear for their lives.

Immigration is a reserved matter, but nonetheless we believe Scots want to do something to stop this. Last week, we launched a campaign calling for the UK government to stop destitution.

We are hoping for a Scotland where everyone, including those seeking asylum, have a right to a roof over their heads and support, until they either get protection, or can be safely returned to their countries of origin. Help us make it happen.

• Gary Christie is head of policy at the Scottish Refugee Council. www.stopdestitution.org.uk