Asylum seekers and refugees face a real risk of homelessness in Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Poland, according to a series of studies sponsored by UNHCR.
State policies regarding prolonged detention are one of the major factors that contribute to homelessness in Bulgaria. In order to be released from detention, people seeking asylum have to declare that they have accommodation and provide a fictitious address. This makes the applicants ineligible to receive accommodation, financial support and Bulgarian language courses. Many are forced to live in the streets or squat in abandoned buildings. The research reveals that detention influences the decision of a very large portion of asylum seekers and refugees as to whether to remain in Bulgaria and become integrated or flee to another country.
Persons granted protection in Bulgaria are also at risk of homelessness due to the lack of sufficient integration measures. In particular, the language training provided is not sufficient to acquire the linguistic competences needed to access employment in Bulgaria.
In Poland, 40% of the refugee population are either homeless or in temporary or inadequate housing.
While awaiting a decision on their claim, asylum seekers are not allowed to work for the first six months which hinders self-sufficiency and creates dependency on social security benefits. Persons applying for international protection live in a centre for asylum seekers or independently outside the centre. If the person chooses to live outside the centre, then they receive financial support but this is insufficient for independent renting, and therefore many end up sleeping in overcrowded apartments, sharing beds, and lack privacy and personal security.
After receiving a positive decision, the greatest risk of homelessness appears when the integration programme ends. The study shows that the one year programme is not enough for refugees to be able to learn Polish or acquire competencies to find a job and achieve self-sufficiency in Polish society. To alleviate this, it is proposed to extend the programme to two or three years, focusing on mentoring and working on becoming self-reliant (including language skills) rather than simply provision of financial aid.
In Slovakia, in 2012, only 32 people were granted refugee status out of 732 applications and 104 were granted subsidiary protection. According to the study, persons with subsidiary protection and unaccompanied children are not considered persons that should be integrated into society, which is reflected in legislative restrictions and a strong dependence of these persons on help from NGOs.
Since 2010, the basic services for beneficiaries of international protection are provided by NGO projects financed by the European Refugee Fund. According to UNHCR, these persons are not legally entitled to any assistance and therefore, beneficiaries of subsidiary protection and persons granted asylum who do not live in the Integration Centres are at risk of homelessness.
Persons granted subsidiary protection find it difficult to access accommodation due to the short length of their residence permits (which are only valid for 9 to 11 months, below the minimal period of 1 year established in the Qualifications directive) and because of the lengthy administrative procedures involved in renewing their permits.
Similar studies are currently being undertaken in Romania, Slovenia, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.
This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 14 June 2013
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