Increased homelessness and destitution among (rejected) asylum seekers

14 April 2021

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While the Covid-19 outbreak has forced the world’s population to stay home, it has also directly caused homelessness and destitution among (rejected) asylum seekers. Research carried out by JRS Europe and its partners in nine EU countries shows that the pandemic exacerbated existing problems asylum seekers face accessing reception. Evictions of rejected asylum seekers often continued in spite of the pandemic. As a result, people found themselves with no place to stay at a time when finding a job to afford private housing was more difficult than usual. As a consequence, many were left with no other choice than to live on the street, facing a higher risk of contracting and spreading the virus.

 

Reception in times of Covid-19: harder than usual 

According to EU law, Member States should provide reception to applicants for international protection as soon as they make their application. However, the situation varied wildly among EU countries even before the pandemic, and asylum seekers often had to wait days, weeks or months before obtaining a space. In many cases, they never did.

Covid-19 prevention measures increased the obstacles for asylum seekers to access reception: during the Spring 2020 lockdown, most EU countries suspended the process of applying for international protection by limiting access to the responsible entities. Consequently, people were not formally considered asylum seekers and could not access reception. Even when registrations resumed, several obstacles remained. Making appointments to register an application could take very long due to a general lack of available staff as a result of remote working requirements. People also experienced long delays obtaining the documents needed to access reception facilities.

 

End of right to reception: evicted in times of pandemic

In most of EU countries, people must leave the reception system at the end of their asylum procedure and are ultimately evicted if they do not. This includes rejected asylum seekers, but also recognised refugees or beneficiaries of international protection.

During the Spring 2020 Covid-19 lockdown, some EU countries extended the possibility of remaining in reception facilities or suspended the issuing of negative decisions. In other countries, this was not the case, and people whose right to reception had come to an end were either detained or became homeless.

It is not clear if the extensions granted during Spring 2020 were extended to the Covid-19 restrictions of Autumn 2020. In general, homelessness and destitution at the end of the asylum procedure, even after a positive decision, are a daily reality in Europe and have certainly increased as a result of Covid-19.

 

Lessons learned

These situations are not a result of the Covid-19 outbreak, but become more problematic for the people involved during a pandemic. With this in mind, JRS recommends:

To the responsible national authorities

  • To ensure that asylum seekers are effectively referred to a reception place the moment they make an application
  • To refrain from evicting people at the end of the right to reception or to provide alternative accommodation for people who no longer have the right to reception
  • To ensure that administrations are duly funded, equipped and staffed

To the EU Parliament and the Council of the EU

  • To clearly foresee in EU legislation that asylum seekers must receive a certification of the fact that they have made an asylum application
  • To reject proposals excluding certain categories of applicants from the right to reception