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Fleeing persecution – and into destitution

Soloman* was arrested as he prayed with friends in Eritrea, where his Protestant religion is banned and believers are often persecuted. He was sent to prison but escaped and fled to the United Kingdom at the end of 2009. His claim for asylum was refused. With no support from the UK government, Soloman relies on friends or local churches for food and somewhere to sleep at night.

Soloman’s story is featured in a new Oxfam report that shows the challenges many refugees in the UK face.  Denied asylum by an unfair system, they are left in social and legal limbo. They are not allowed to work, yet recive no support from the state. They live with the daily fear of being caught and deported. Many end up homeless, terrified and destitute.

“People go through all things,” says Soloman. “Sleeping in bus stations and train stations, or even outside.”

The report highlights some of the moral and legal failings of the British government’s asylum policy, which often humiliates and degrades people who have suffered extreme trauma.

Farah* was forced to become a child soldier at the age of 10 – a victim of Somalia’s brutal civil war, he lost his family, his friends and his childhood. After 15 years in the militia, he escaped to the UK where he sought asylum. His claim was refused. Too afraid to return to Somalia, he now lives destitute in the UK. He does some voluntary work, but he has no paid employment.

“I would like to go back,” he says. “But what about my safety? Can they guarantee that I will be safe?”

Soloman is appealing the decision to deny him asylum. He is trying to collect evidence from home to support his case, but as he points out: “To save your life you run away. You don’t wait to collect ‘evidence’ that your life is in danger.”

He hopes his new claim will be successful as he fears that if he goes home he will be arrested, tortured, or killed by the government.

The report sets out a number of recommendations to the British government for making a fairer asylum system. According to Kate Wareing, the head of Oxfam’s UK Poverty programme, “These are people who end up living as ghosts on the streets of Britain because of government policy and decision making that strips them of their rights and dignity.”

You can download the full report and recommendations here.

*Names have been changed to protect the identities of the individuals and their families and friends back home

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