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COUNCIL leaders warned yesterday that a “perfect storm” could see thousands of refugees sleeping on the streets this Christmas.
The Local Government Association (LGA) said town halls across England and Wales are facing high demand for temporary accommodation as the British government works to clear the backlog of older cases in the asylum system.
LGA chairman Shaun Davies said: “The run-up to Christmas could see tens of thousands of refugees having to sleep rough.
“Demand for temporary accommodation is already at an all-time high with councils struggling to source suitable accommodation and cater for current needs.
“Pushing tens of thousands of refugees onto councils will overload the system and mean they simply cannot provide for these vulnerable people’s needs.”
The Refugee Council’s Kama Petruczenko argued that refugees should be given the best possible chance to rebuild their lives in Britain after fleeing war and persecution.
“By giving these people very limited time to start anew, the asylum system is instead forcing them into poverty,” she said.
“It’s worrying to see so many refugees presenting as homeless after leaving their asylum accommodation.
“These are people whose lives have been on hold for years, who have been unable to work and accumulate savings, and who often lack proper networks of support as they leave the asylum system and start their new lives.”
She called for the move-on period to be lengthened to at least 56 days to help set new refugees up for success and allow them to thrive in their new communities.
Freedom from Torture’s head of asylum advocacy Sile Reynolds said: “No matter who we are or where we come from we all deserve secure housing to keep ourselves and our families safe.
“The warning that tens of thousands of refugees could end up sleeping rough this Christmas is shameful.
“Refugees find themselves living on our streets as a direct result of government policy.
“The Home Office is knowingly evicting refugees from asylum accommodation with insufficient time to secure alternative housing.
“Every day in our therapy rooms up and down the country, we are seeing the very real impact of short-notice evictions and the threat of homelessness on survivors of torture and their chances of recovery.
“It’s time for this government to get a grip and ensure that all refugees in this country have the safety and stability they need to rebuild their lives.”
The LGA has listed a number of asks of the government, including making sure people have the full 28-day notice they have been promised before they have to leave Home Office accommodation.
There have been reports some have been given as little as a week’s notice, but immigration minister Robert Jenrick rejected this when it was put to him in Parliament last month, saying the Home Office’s policy remains 28 days.
The LGA demanded that no-one should be asked to leave their asylum accommodation in Christmas week and this period should not be counted towards the overall number of days notice given.
It said this pause should also happen during extreme weather and could reduce the risk of refugees having to sleep on the streets.
The Welsh government urged Westminster to take a more reasonable approach to the grace period provided and has called for asylum claims to be processed more quickly.
A Welsh government spokesperson said: “We have provided £8.2 million to local authorities to support people from Ukraine to longer-term accommodation and integration in local communities.
“This includes £4.75m to help with the prevention of homelessness and local authorities have broad flexibility in how this is used based on local needs and priorities, including supporting other groups in housing need.”
The Welsh government also said it had established a £75m transitional accommodation capital programme to support local authorities and social landlords to bring forward more good quality accommodation.
A British government spokesperson said: “Once someone is informed that their asylum claim has been granted, they get at least 28 days’ notice to move on from their asylum accommodation.
“We are working with local authorities to help communities manage the impact of asylum decisions as the legacy backlog reduces.”
The Home Office admitted yesterday that it did not know the whereabouts of more than 17,000 asylum-seekers whose claims have been withdrawn.
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