Syrian refugees in the UK face a stark choice between extreme poverty and exploitation in the black market economy, as they fear being detained or deported if they report to the Home Office.
The Observer found that many Syrians seeking refuge in the UK are living on less than £10 (US$12.60) a day as they subject themselves to exploitative labor, while many have stopped signing in at the Home Office after being detained in centers for months at a time.
The paper interviewed 10 Syrian refugees and found that eight of them have stopped reporting to the Home Office, fearing removal or deportation.
Since the beginning of 2015, up to 50 Syrians have been deported under the Dublin regulation, by which refugees must be returned to the first EU member state they set foot in.
Some face the prospect of being sent to countries accused of committing human rights abuses against asylum seekers, such as Bulgaria, where, according to Human Rights Watch, refugees are shot at, beaten, and deported to conflict-prone Turkey.
Others could be sent back to Hungary, which has faced widespread criticism from humanitarian organizations following proposals to detain asylum seekers in converted shipping container camps, and despite the UK government pledging it would not be sending any asylum seekers there.
Tarek, 31, an undocumented Syrian who has been living in the UK for four years, stopped reporting to the Home Office after he was detained for three months.
In an urgent bid to find work and earn a living, Tarek took up a job as a mechanic in a garage which provided him with just enough to make it through the day.
“Every day I’d get £10 and food and you could sleep in the garage. I worked there for three months,” he said.
The Observer, however, found that hundreds more Syrian refugees in the UK face destitution and are relying on charities for food and clothing.
The paper found that Syrian refugees are also renouncing their £36 allowance over fear they could be deported or detained once entering the Home Office to sign in.
Mike Adamson, chief executive of the British Red Cross, condemned the precarious condition of people arriving to the UK after fleeing war-torn countries and prosecution.
“A two-tier system, where Syrian nationals who arrive in the UK as asylum seekers are left vulnerable to exploitation, seems completely at odds with the spirit behind the government’s commitment to offer a safe home to 20,000 Syrian refugees under its resettlement program,” Adamson was cited saying in the Guardian.
“No one should arrive in the UK having fled conflict or persecution only to be left destitute and reliant on charity to survive.”
Another person interviewed is Sayid, 25, and who has been living in the UK for two years. After being detained twice, he found a job in a warehouse on the outskirts of London.
Sayid works 10 hours a day, and although his salary has increased to £50 a day from the initial £3.50 an hour he received, he claims his job has “no human rights.”
“I was moving food crates, carrying boxes from a lorry to a van. I’d work for 10 hours,” he said.
“I only got enough money to survive.
“I’m so up and down in my mind and my body, I’m not happy. In this job there are no human rights, but what can I do?
“I can’t do anything,” he added.
According to the Red Cross, the number of asylum seekers facing destitution in the UK has increased to 1,341 in 2016, up from 1,159 a year earlier.
“The Dublin regulation gambles with the lives of vulnerable people fleeing the world’s most desperate circumstances, treating refugees like balls to be bounced from country to country with no chance of building a real future,” Nazek Ramadan, director of Migrant Voice, an NGO which conducted a study based on experiences of refugees in limbo because of the Dublin Regulation, said.
The Home Office has defended its approach.
“The UK has a proud history of providing protection to those who need it,” a spokesman said, according to the Guardian.
“But it is also right that we uphold the principle that those seeking asylum should ask for protection in the first safe country they reach.
“Where there is evidence someone has claimed asylum in another European country, we will seek to return them there.”