Humanitarian crisis in Manchester

Destitution warning Photo: PA

Humanitarian crisis in Manchester as scores of asylum seekers and refugees are without shelter or food, warns charities

A humanitarian crisis is happening on our doorsteps in Greater Manchester - and it has left some vulnerable people destitute for more than a decade, charities have warned.

They are urging the local authorities and the Government to make simple changes which would ease the suffering of refugees and asylum seekers who find themselves sleeping rough, and lacking basic necessities such as food.

A hard-hitting report about the bleak situation of destitute asylum seekers and refugees in Greater Manchester is being launched today at an event at the Imperial War Museum North called 'A Decade of Destitution: Time to Make a Change'. Speakers at the event will include Kate Green MP for Stretford and Urmston and Maron Ehata from the Democratic Republic of Congo who was destitute in Greater Manchester for five years.

The first Greater Manchester destitution project started back in 2003 to provide crucial support to those who fall between the gaps of the asylum process - and are left relying on family, friends and charities for food and shelter.

Over the past 10 years in Greater Manchester support has been provided by charities including the British Red Cross, Boaz, Refugee Action, Manchester homelessness charity the Mustard Tree, Rainbow Haven, Oldham Unity, BRASS, Salford Life Centre and St Brides.

In the past decade, a shocking 3,000 destitute people in total have sought help from the British Red Cross - and it currently supports 400 people a week with food parcels, supermarket vouchers, hygiene packs, travel grants, clothing and emergency temporary accommodation.

Findings from the report include a survey of 150 of these service users (aged 18-64) from Manchester and the surrounding authorities which shows:

One in 10 has endured destitution for more than a decade. Almost half of those waiting for emergency support in Greater Manchester have been destitute for at least two years More than a quarter had spent the previous night in homeless shelters, bus stations or public buildings, or charity accommodation. Almost one in 20 had slept outdoors in parks, streets and doorways. The majority (70 per cent) were able to stay with friends or family. They came from 29 different countries: the top five were Iran (29 per cent), Iraq (17 per cent), Zimbabwe (11 per cent), Eritrea (6 per cent) and Afghanistan (5 per cent). Forty per cent were thought to have high levels of physical and mental health problems.

Maron was destitute for five years after fleeing the Democratic Republic of Congo. The 43 year old, who lives in Bury said: "When I arrived in the UK I had nothing and no-one to turn to. All I wanted was protection and a new start, to support myself and work. But instead, I spent five years living destitute - one of the most degrading experiences of my life. I felt utterly useless and totally despondent; every day was a struggle for survival."

Maron is now a married father-of-two and now volunteers with the Red Cross helping people in similar situations to his own.

"There are many people living like this right now and they desperately need support," he said.

"The Red Cross gave me strength. No-one should have to face the dire straits I, and lots of people like me, had to face in this day and age.

"The system needs to change and the Red Cross is working hard with other charities to highlight this and campaign for an end to destitution."

The Red Cross and partners including Boaz Trust and Refugee Action detail changes in the report that could be made at local and national level to help prevent destitution, including Greater Manchester councils signing a motion in support of destitute refugees and asylum seekers as has recently happened in Liverpool.

British Red Cross refugee support senior service manager Antonia Dunn said: "When we started our destitution services ten years ago it was supposed to be a temporary solution to a temporary problem, but a decade on we are seeing a humanitarian crisis on our doorstep. Simple changes could make a huge difference to some of the most vulnerable people in Greater Manchester. It is time to make a change."