Posted by Adela Kamaragoda
News of the recent UK High Court judgement calling for a review of levels of asylum support in the UK has caused a bit of a stir in the Justice Centre office this week because it hit so close to home.
Refugee Action, a UK refugee rights NGO, along with The Migrants’ Law Project took the UK Home Secretary, Theresa May, to the High Court to challenge her decision to freeze 2013/2014 asylum support at 2011 levels. The court ruled in their favour, labelling Ms May’s decision-making as “flawed” and “irrational”.
The court said that the analysis the Home Secretary had used to set the levels of support was ‘erroneous’, that she misunderstood and misapplied vital statistics and did not gather enough evidence to make a fully informed decision.
In the UK, the Home Office covers the cost of accommodation and basic health care of asylum seekers and provides an additional cash allowance as low as around £5 per adult per day (which equates to about HK$68), with which asylum seekers are expected to cover the cost of food, transport and essential needs. As a result, refugees are often forced into destitution and are struggling to survive.
The argument for increasing the levels of assistance is based on the fact that in real terms, the level of support is actually going down, as it is not linked to the increasing cost of living in the UK. Secondly, the support does not take into account the need for vital household items, essential goods for new mothers and babies, such as nappies and milk, or allow asylum seekers to maintain interpersonal relationships and a minimum level of participation in social, cultural, and religious life. Other costs such as transportation to attend meetings with legal advisors and telephone calls to family and legal representatives are not covered by legal aid, yet it is difficult to meet these needs with the current level of support.
The issues raised in the High Court judgement are indeed too close to home: levels of support for people seeking protection in Hong Kong are simply inadequate for the purpose of maintaining a dignified standard of living in one of the most expensive cities in the world, and are not adjusted in line with the increase in cost of living
Refugees and people seeking protection in Hong Kong currently receive around the equivalent of HK$40 a day for food; that’s just HK$13 for each meal. They do not receive cash to buy their food; instead they suffer the indignity of a ‘food package’, where they must go to selected outlets to collect bags of food, choosing from an unchanging list of items year after year. Choice is limited, overhead costs are high, and there are problems with quality and pricing. This policy is all wrong.
Towards rent, they are entitled to a meagre $1,500 per month. How many homes do you know in Hong Kong, the city with the most expensive real estate in the world, affordable at that cost? Essential items like baby milk, nappies and sanitary protection, they are expected to buy themselves, but how, when they are not permitted to earn an income?
We, at Justice Centre, have been lobbying the Hong Kong Government for a long time to increase the welfare package, yet when it was so-called ‘enhanced’ in January this year, we found the improvements did not go far enough to ensure that refugees could live here in safety and dignity and enjoy even basic rights.
What next? Bring back dignity to refugees
The UK judgement was a victory for Refugee Action and asylum seekers on whose behalf they lobbied, yet it is not over yet. The court did not declare the rates of support unlawful as it is not within its power to do so. Instead, the Home Secretary has been ordered to retake her decision, based on relevant information and evidence.
Refugee Action has since rolled out the Bring Back Dignity campaign, where members of the public can sign an online petition calling for the Home Office to increase the levels of support for asylum seekers in the UK. Lend your name and let us know you’ve done so by commenting below or on our Facebook page, or even Tweet about it.
Also watch this space for an upcoming campaign in Hong Kong with regards to the meagre levels of support for refugees in this wealthy city, where fiscal reserves are in excess of HK$750 billion. Are you ready to hold our leaders to account? ‘Cause we are.