Arab Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Bri­tons shel­ter refugees:

When Eritrean refugee Her­mon gave birth to her daugh­ter Ruf­tana in Fe­bru­ary, her joy quickly turned into fear as she and her hus­band Yonathan grap­pled with the over­whelm­ing re­al­ity of rais­ing their first child while homeless in Lon­don.

Al­though Her­mon and Yonathan were given refugee sta­tus in 2015, be­ing un­able to find work, they could not af­ford to rent and shared a cramped one-bed­room flat with Her­mon’s sis­ter and her two chil­dren in south Lon­don.

As the fam­ily edged closer to break­ing point, a case­worker in­tro­duced 32-year-old Yonathan to Rachel Man­tell, who lived in nearby Brix­ton and of­fered them a spare room through Refugees at Home, a char­ity she helps run that matches homeless refugees with vol­un­teer hosts across Britain.

Tough asy­lum pro­ce­dures, lim­ited job op­por­tu­ni­ties and a short­age of homes in Britain have pushed thou­sands of refugees and asy­lum seek­ers into home­less­ness, which can spi­ral into labour abuses and sex­ual ex­ploita­tion, char­i­ties say.

“If we didn’t find Rachel, if we didn’t meet her, we could have ended up homeless and sleep­ing on the streets,” said 30-year-old Her­mon, who de­clined to give her full name fear­ing reprisals against her fam­ily in Eritrea af­ter the cou­ple fled the coun­try in 2014 for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons.

“Thanks to them, we have a home. They are like fam­ily to us. They sup­port us with ev­ery­thing,” Her­mon said, sip­ping on a mug of tea in the house that her fam­ily now shares with Man­tell, her hus­band Chris and tod­dler Joseph.

At least 250,000 peo­ple are es­ti­mated to be homeless across Eng­land, hous­ing char­ity Shel­ter said last De­cem­ber, be­cause of a lack of af­ford­able homes, along with govern­ment fund­ing cuts and re­stric­tions on wel­fare ben­e­fits.

The govern­ment set out long-term plans in Fe­bru­ary to tackle Eng­land’s chronic short­age of hous­ing, largely blamed on fail­ures to en­sure home­build­ing is keep­ing pace with de­mand. .

Man­tell said her char­ity has of­fered spare rooms to mi­grants sleep­ing rough in parks, on couches of friends or rel­a­tives, and even on night buses, trav­el­ling from one end of the route to the other.

“Let­ting peo­ple be some­where safe ... is a re­ally valu­able thing at that ur­gent time of their life,” said Man­tell, who has hosted Yonathan, Her­mon and Ruf­tana for nearly four months.

“But it is very sad and it actually makes me quite an­gry that we (Refugees at Home) have to ex­ist. We shouldn’t need to ex­ist,” she said.

While there is no data on how many refugees or asy­lum seek­ers are hosted in Bri­tish homes through var­i­ous char­i­ties, Refugees At Home said it has pro­vided nearly 29,300 hosted nights to hun­dreds of peo­ple since it started in Oc­to­ber 2015.

Lon­don-based char­ity Hous­ing Jus­tice said peo­ple wait­ing for asy­lum, or those ap­peal­ing their re­jected claims, were most at risk of home­less­ness and des­ti­tu­tion since they are not en­ti­tled to reg­u­lar wel­fare ben­e­fits nor are they al­lowed to work.

“These peo­ple have nowhere else to go, (there’s) no pro­vi­sion for them,” said Ja­cob Quagliozzi, deputy di­rec­tor of Hous­ing Jus­tice which runs night shel­ters for the homeless, and also of­fers spare rooms to refugees in Lon­don.

“Some­times des­ti­tute mi­grants can fall through the safety net. They’re vul­ner­a­ble to sex­ual ex­ploita­tion and traf­fick­ing, and forced labour on the black mar­ket,” he told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion in a phone in­ter­view.

With just over 38,500 claims in 2016, Britain re­ceives the sixth most asy­lum ap­pli­ca­tions in the Euro­pean Union (EU), com­pared to more than 700,000 in Ger­many, the EU coun­try with the high­est num­ber, statis­tics of­fice Euro­stat says. (RTRS)



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