cities&refugees_D10In Leeds, ordinary people are stepping up to support refugees and asylum seekers. When the local authority struggles to offer accommodation, charities and members of the public fill the gap. Some even go so far as to host asylum seekers in their own homes, offering spare rooms to people trying to navigate the bureaucratic maze of the asylum process.

In order to take a closer look at the local impact of the refugee crisis, we launched our ‘Cities & Refugees‘ project – aimed at fostering a Europe-wide dialogue between citizens, refugees and asylum seekers, NGOs, politicians, and European leaders. The emphasis will be on connecting local, everyday life at the city level to decisions made in Brussels and national capitals.

This week, we’re looking at Leeds, in the North of England. Although the majority of asylum seekers and refugees find accommodation, they are nevertheless an especially vulnerable group in terms of homelessness. In Leeds, as in the rest of the UK, asylum seekers are not allowed to claim benefits, nor are they allowed to work to support themselves during their application process. They may be entitled to housing during the application, but even if they’re granted refugee status they have just 28 days to find a new home before being evicted from their asylum accommodation.

Many people in Leeds, as in other cities across Europe, have been campaigning and generously donating clothes and food to refugees. Some have even gone so far as to offer places to stay, hoping to prevent asylum seekers from ending up on the street. We thought it would be worthwhile to look at the issue of hosting, homelessness, and the asylum application process in greater detail, using Leeds as a case study.

Curious to know more about refugees, asylum seekers, and housing in Leeds? We’ve put together some facts and figures in the infographic below (click for a bigger version).


To kick off the debate, we had a comment sent in from Παυλος, who believes it should be up to the government to provide housing for refugees. Why are charities, non-profit organisations, and members of the public being asked to step in?

To get a response, we spoke to Jon Beech, Director of the Leeds Asylum Seekers Support Network (LASSN), a Leeds-based charity set up to address the unmet needs of refugees and asylum seekers. Among other activities, they run a programme matching asylum seekers needing accommodation with hosts willing to offer them a room. What would Jon say?

jon-beechAt LASSN we think it’s the job of Government to make sure everyone has somewhere to live if they haven’t got somewhere: including refugees and non-refugees. However, the UK government has said that they will not house some refugees who have not yet persuaded the government that they are genuine. The UK government calls these people ‘failed asylum seekers’.

‘Failed Asylum Seekers’ are not allowed to work, or to rent a place of their own either. So if the UK government refuse to provide somewhere to live, and it’s illegal for someone to work, our hosts offer a place, free, until they can sort something else out. Many of the people we know are able to persuade the government to let them stay (and to house them) if they can provide good evidence. A place to live gives people a base to get their evidence together, and we help them with that.

Offering someone a place to live can also be a deeply humanitarian action, and an act of solidarity. As an NGO, we believe in the power of ordinary people to make the world a better place. And governments are not always the best people to do everything. So we think citizens have a part to play in helping refugees feel welcome and part of a wider community. It’s easier to do that when someone is living in your home or next door to you than if they are staying in a government hostel.

We asked Jon to tell us more about some of the challenges facing asylum seekers. He gave us an example:

jon-beech[…] I know people who’ve had terrible, very personal, intimate, horrendous things happen to them, who have not told the first immigration officer they speak to, because perhaps [the asylum seeker] was a woman and something terrible happened to her and it was a male who assaulted her, and it was a male immigration officer. So, she doesn’t disclose these terrible things.

Later, she tells her story to the first female immigration officer who she meets and trusts. She is then told that her failure to mention the incident initially demonstrates she is an unreliable witness, and that she doesn’t give consistent evidence. This is subsequently used as a reason to overturn her application.

With good legal support, sometimes we can get these sort of stupid decisions overturned. But that’s if you’ve got good legal support. We don’t even have free legal assistance for people […] in precisely the situation I described just now. So, it’s tremendously hard…

To get another reaction, we also spoke to John Hebden, who founded the charity Abigail Housing with his wife Anne, providing support and homes to refugees and asylum seekers who find themselves destitute in Leeds. What would he say about the role of the public in supporting refugees?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s a very, very good question. My wife and I set up Abigail Housing ten years ago because we recognised that there was a gap in services in our country. Specifically, there was a gap of housing provision after asylum seekers have been granted leave to remain. And I do very much think it is the government’s job to provide housing for refugees.

What the government is doing in this country is that they’re processing asylum applications and, for those that they find have a legitimate asylum application, the first thing that happens is that the applicant is given 28 days notice to leave their Home Office accommodation. Yet, in many local authority areas, there are no specialist services at all to help people manage that situation.

Our charity came into being because we saw there was this a gap in services. We took the initiative. We’re just local citizens. Nobody in local or central government was prompting us to do this. I have to say that when we went to talk to people who worked in the Refugee and Asylum Team (which now doesn’t exist anymore) at Leeds City Council, they were very enthusiastic. Interestingly, that service has since been decommissioned. So, there is a real lack of state provision for people in that situation. I think it’s disgraceful, but I think that the political climate in this country is such that it’s quite difficult for government to deal with the problem. So, no, I don’t think the public should have to house refugees…

What’s stopping you hosting an asylum seeker in your home? Should more people house refugees in their homes? Or is that the government’s job to look after vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Elijah
The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsi­ble for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

112 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. Bobi Dochev

    By sending back the illegal migrants home!
    Then work to improve the quality of life in their home countries.

    • Maseeh Dlir

      Did ur Grand-Parents got deported too, when they sought asylum in Africa in world war 2?

    • Bobi Dochev

      Did you noticed the “illegal” part?

  2. João Machado

    Don’t go and bomb their countries in the first place. That should do it. And if not, help this poor people in their own countries, I’m pretty sure most of them never wanted to leave their home in the first place. Stop lying to and manipulating European citizens!

    • Paul X

      Lying and manipulating?…oh you mean like trying to shift the blame onto the west by claiming it is all our own fault for bombing them out of their countries?….Strange, but I can’t quite remember when we last dropped bombs on Albania, Pakistan, Eritea, Nigeria, Kosovo etc

    • Ante Radnić

      We bomb Sudan and Bangladesh? I didn’t know.

    • João Machado

      The post says asylum seekers, not economic migrants.

    • Călin Cucuietu Kə'lin

      And people from Sudan and Bangladesh are seeking political asylum too.

    • João Machado

      Calin, you’re going to get whatever countries to fit your argument but the bottom line is that the EU, as a block of sovereign countries (if you still want to believe that..), cannot just open doors fully wide and say come everyone, like your friend Merkel decided to do, one of the worst mistakes any EU politician ever made. The political result of that is showing, extreme divisions between and within countries, extreme right ideologies on the rise, and (the only one I personally support) a rising understanding that the EU, as a political project, is not a good place to be. If you want to help someone, help them on their own homes, not half way across the planet. Unless you have an agenda for this people to leave everything behind and come to Europe… Which seems to be the case.. And why in your mind is Europe responsible for taking care of everyone in the world that is in a bad situation?! I want to know the rational. Why aren’t rich Arabic countries taking in war refugees for example? And why aren’t we doing anything to persuaded them to do it? A continent in economic recession, with a failed common currency and politics should be taking care of there own citizens before being able to help others across the world. I don’t buy to the “this poor little people” argument, it’s a big world full of problems and neither we are responsible for solving them all nor we are safe from our own social catastrophes. So listing country after country is no argument. You might as well list all 190+ countries in the planet, in one way or another all of them have problems…

    • Fernando Liz

      João Machado , if we call it ilegal migrants,
      people say – “out of EU”, but if we call it “refugees” people will say “welcome”. Thats the true story :(
      Merkel said, “GERMANY (alone) will receive 1 million, and when they start to come, she said that the OTHERS countries MUST receive”
      The answer is called “Replacement Migration”.
      It’s a UN document explaining the economic reasons why we need to “import people”
      You can jump to 1′:04″, and see for your self the UN document Imigração de Substituição – Replacement Migration
      the links to UN population division are also there :(

    • João Machado

      Hi Fernando, I know why Merkel wants this to happen. I also think it goes way beyond that. In a much more dangerous path. But assumptions aside, my argument is simple. A country, or block of countries in this case, cannot logically manage itself and it’s resources and carrying capacity with open borders. It’s just not possible and makes absolutely no sense in any rational approach. And the results are showing. What bothers me the most is the brainwashing that is being made to the European people to justify this social madness, and the emotional responses are right here. And Calin’s argument here seems to be in the direction that we should be the world saviours and just accept everyone in our countries regardless of their background and intentions, without any plan whatsoever to solve the route problem. I don’t buy to the emotional arguments. We need a rational solution that addresses the problems that create refugees, asylum seekers, economic migrants and all the others that share the intent to come to Europe. I’m not staying build a wall. I’m talking about immigration politics that protect both native and newcomers. It seems very noble to just say, yes come everybody, open doors for all! And then very easy to forget about the hundreds of thousands of migrant/refugee unaccompanied children roaming the streets of Europe and the refugee camps at the hands of human traffickers. Or the fact that Malmö (Sweden) became the rape capital of the world. Much easier to hang banners with emotional messages of hope than to think and strategize solutions to the real problems.

    • Norina Nour

      they say ~to be a islamist is a nationality~and they came to make djihad and create a mnndial islamc gouuernement~thats why they ard only man!they come to fight to impose islam but at the end they will be destroyed by a mondial war against daesh~bx trump

  3. Bódis Kata

    About half the people are illegitimate asylum seekers (see Eurostat) yet they spend years in the EU before they are sent back – if at all. The people should be selected better at the borders, the illegitimate asylum seekers should be sent away expediently; then there would be sufficient infrastructure for the real refugees. The EU is wasting billions on fraudsters; complete mismanagement.

    • Norina Nour

      they want to diabolise islam by daesh amd than push them to djihad and at last make a world war again daesh!its trump who say that!he will destroy radical islam!and putin explained this plans at onu!daesh was created for to fight against it!

  4. Alfredo Coelho

    Send them back, we already have our own homeless and the government do not help them, so why should we help your refugees and despise our homeless??

    • Fernando Liz

      Não é para ajudar, é para repovoar :(
      Deixo-te o vídeo onde aparece (preto no branco) ao minuto 1:04″ o estudo Replacement Migration feito pela UN Population Division ONU no ano 2000

  5. Dylan

    I’ve hosted asylum seekers in my home on and off for the past 6 years and I’m so glad to have been able to do so. The people I’ve met have been lovely and we often have a great time together. I have fond memories of making falafel with one guest, of doing an art class with a longer term guest/housemate, of evenings spent drinking tea and swapping songs with another.

    It’s really something special to know that someone is safe, warm, and well fed under your roof when otherwise they would have been sleeping in the bus station or walking round and round till dawn. The way the UK government treats refugees and asylum seekers is shameful.

    I don’t think anyone should be homeless.

    • Paul X

      Agreed…. I think I’ll go and offer one of the many homeless ex-servicemen sleeping on the streets a bed for the night

    • Duncan

      Paul X, don’t say stuff like that unless you’re going to back it up with action. If you truly mean it, then great. If not it just makes you a . . . I can’t write the word here, but everyone knows what that would make you. Your decency as a human being currently hangs in the balance here.

    • Paul X

      @ Duncan
      For the purposes of this board my reply was unashamedly cynical inferring that we should be looking after our own needy first.
      For the purposes of reality I’m ex forces myself and whilst I must confess I have never gone out and pro-actively looked for a homeless serviceman to invite into my house, I would certainly never turn one away

  6. Duncan

    Solve the housing shortage, that should go some way to helping.

  7. Marco Bianchi

    Stop supporting NATO’s war all over the globe! Stop supporting “moderate” terrorist organizations!

  8. Malcolm Seychell

    first stop illegal immigration. second end homeless europeans. its like giving housing to foreigners and let your kids homeless. EU is betraying europeans

  9. Dimitri Dragounis

    By sending them back home, all of them, Europe is a Christian continent. Give us back our homes and stop importing illegal immigrants in Europe. Schengen was a very bad idea.

    • Cris Dracou

      That means, let the ISIS to dominate.

    • Ian Upton

      Thats up to the people that live there.

    • Călin Cucuietu Kə'lin

      We do not bomb Sudan, Rwanda, Nigeria or Bangladesh and other at least 50 countries from where a lot of asylum seekers are coming.

    • Ian Upton

      Călin Cucuietu Kə’lin I feel coming form those areas they are general economic migrants and migrants who have been bombed by others in the surrounding disputes flared up from local border controls. these people tend to go in to the areas left in iraq, egypt and libya. I feel this is the left over from gulf war 1 and also the arab spring and opportunism. migrants have come from those areas since the 1950s

    • Călin Cucuietu Kə'lin

      But it is not enough work even for the people already in EU. It is called unemployement. In France alone it is around 10%.

    • Piedade Luisa Pinho

      So don’t let them in. If they are not coming to work, what are they doing in a society they don’t like, don’t understand and don’t accept?!

    • Fernando Liz

      Sorry, it’s not to help them, it’s to “help” us :(
      the TRUE motive is an economic reason, and the UN report called Replacement Migration, (Imigração de Substituição) explains. And even tell us the numbers
      You can jump to 1:04″ and check for your self
      the links to the Un Population Division are in the youtube page

  10. Michael Paraskevas

    Send them back! They are mostly islamic invaders of Europe sponsored by Soros like the whole EU parliament!

  11. JR Bogdan

    Send them to safe countries with the same culture as theirs. It’s cheaper in the long run, and much safer to fund this countries for their effort, than to commit cultural suicide in Europe. With our demographic problem, we don’t need migrants who can’t be assimilated.

  12. EU Reform- Proactive

    Sovereign governments and/or the supranational EU entity cannot be compared to individual ordinary people or NGO’s. Individuals are usually kind people- the EU polity or Nations can’t be. Why is England (“this week” Leeds- next week who?) specifically mentioned here- while the UK is leaving the EU?

    What are “ASYLUM SEEKERS” seeking in countries which are distant from their trouble spots? How many borders did they cross illegally? Who failed whom?
    A “Seeker” remains illegal until applying & granted asylum on the border of the next safest country.

    All 144 nations who are signatories to the UNHCR 1951 Refugee Convention (should) know what they have signed or not.

    If in doubt, politicians can ask & refresh their memories using their legal departments. That includes the supranational “EU polity”.
    Mr. Juncker said recently: “We need to know who is crossing our borders”. That’s quite correct, but he and every body else in the EU failed and nobody knew- despite a huge €150 bio EU organization.

    Please don’t offload such burden on individuals, but do what you have legally pledged- reform, act proper or resign.

  13. Georgi Parushev

    Send all immigrants back home, and Merkel must say finally “Stop, it’s over” but she still didn’t…and it’s gonna be over with her…

  14. Wolfgang Mizelli

    how can we stop anybody ending up homeless? might start with redistributing the wealth that everyone gets a decent income. for ending the need for asylum might start with the idea of spreading ideas of respect, non discrimination, democracy and worldpeace.

  15. eusebio manuel vestias pecurto vestias

    Immigration reforms in all european states

  16. Zsuzsanna Griga

    Easy: don’t let them in. Stop invading their homeland, give them back their own resources, stop exporting your poisonous “democracy” and they will be fine.

  17. Vicente Silva Tavares

    My government gave accommodation to 15 Eritreans refugees in my hometown. Just 15 days later one of them raped an homeless old woman. Beat her beyond recognition. My Government could not give accommodation to our own citizens. One only woman. But found immediately accommodation for 15 “refugees” (is there any war in Eritrea?).

    • Marial Loutsch

      there is a war between the once who say that there is and the once who say that there isn’t a war

    • Paulo Guerreiro

      That was in Portugal ? Miss that in the news

    • Vicente Silva Tavares

      Paulo Guerreiro Yes it was in Albufeira. Interestingly I saw the same new in the so far away Australia. A few months earlier, there was another rape in Amadora by a Pakistani. What the guy said to the police? “It is common in my country”. That’s the kind of people we are bringing in. Umberto Ecco is right: the barbariansare invading us and they will do the same they have done to the Roman Empire.

  18. Dimitris Georgopoulos

    It is quite simple. Book them at Intercontinental, Hilton and so many other five star hotels. If there are no rooms throw the natives out of their homes and put refugees and illegal immigrants in. After all refugees have priority over the native citizens of every land they “conquer”.

  19. Maltonka Tolonka

    odpowiedzialność przerzucana na społeczeństwo, które wojen nie prowadzi, nędzy unika i pragnie lepszego jutra. Decydenci zanim podejmą jakąkolwiek decyzję niech ją przemyślą w sposób logiczny nie ideologiczny. Może wreszcie zmienimy razem nasze otoczenie.

  20. Rui Couto Barbosa

    Homeless existed before asylum seekers, it’s not an immigration specificity… It’s a social problem. Exclusion…😈

  21. Enric Mestres Girbal

    The problem is that asylum seekers want to stay in the cities….if they were sent to the many small, half empty country villages, they could live in peace, working to generate their own economy.

  22. Παυλος Χαραλαμπους

    First of all every “great wall ” in history failed it’s mission. Having this in mind i will have to say that if we don’t want anymore people to seek asylum in our counties we have to stop destroying their countries and start to help to rebuild them

    • Gönczi Attila

      Look at the Great chinese wall. When did they build it and when was China conquered by the mongols? No, we have to stop interfere with their countries and stop aiding them unnormaly. Look at Africa, they do not have to eat and drink today and they are continuing making 6 to 10 children per woman. Sometime in the next decades at the southern borders of Europe we will nedd to shoot every illegal because of the idiot short term false-human approach.

    • Παυλος Χαραλαμπους

      That’s the problem people must learn why they shouldn’t have 10 babies per woman or they how to make their lifes better in their own countries. .on the other hand let’s be honest we messed up Syria and north Africa and now we have to fight what we created. ..

    • Adrian Limbidis

      Παυλος Χαραλαμπους they won’t learn that if they imagine the MORONS IN EUROPE ( that’s us btw ) will keep accepting them forever.

  23. Ferre Jaime

    isso e facilimo, nao se lembram do monhe dizer que ia haver colocacao sem concurso, nas camaras municipais, para dar emprego aos refugiados?

  24. Ferre Jaime

    na noruega a maioria deles nunca chega a trabalhar, passa o resto da vida a conta da seguranca social

  25. Călin Cucuietu Kə'lin

    Actually if the lovers of the immigrants will take them in their homes, there will be no homeless immigrants. But the lovers of the immigrants do not want to take them in their homes. Probably they do not really love immigrants…

  26. Stefka Zarkova


  27. Mihail Tudorache

    Si eu am regim de Homelless de 15 ani,din timpul cand TB era primar si oferea locuintele cu chirie mafiei imobiliare,scotand familii nevoiase in strada,prin desfiintarea contractelor de inchiriere.Incepea epoca actualului capitalism salbatic.

  28. Paul X

    It’s getting tedious the amount of people on here cry “stop bombing them” as though the whole thing is the fault of the West

    Go research the real root cause of the problems in Syria, you will find it was civil war which has escalated to where it is today because the West did not act soon enough, and that created the vacuum which ISIS stepped into

  29. Tony Guerriero

    We should be sorting out our own people before we start worrying about so called refugees. Most are economic migrants, we need to put our poor first, but we don’t.

    • D'Abrew Sahagum

      Leia o que os habitantes de Leeds estão a fazer.

    • Tony Guerriero

      Why selfish? Can I go to one of these countries and be given a home, benefits and support. Answer No.

  30. Maia Alexandrova

    The whole asylum process should be controlled by UNHCR in coordination with all countries in the world. This is not solely a European problem, caused only by EU countries. A Merkel-style solution is in reality an invitation for as many people as possible to pay thousands of dollars to smugglers and then drown in the Mediterranean Sea in their attempt to reach Europe. This is why if there is some humanity left, no one should be invited and allowed to enter EU illegally. The boats that save people from the Libyan shore must ship the passengers back to Libya, not forward to Italy. There should be camps built in safe areas in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and any other country in the world that wishes to help in this way, but illegal travel to Europe should stop for the safety of travellers themselves in the first place. The camps and asylum applications should be managed by UNHCR who should organise the building of homes, schools and hospitals in these new temporary cities and provide refugees with food, water and jobs for those of them who can work as builders, cooks, doctors, teachers, childcare workers, cleaners, etc. In the camps refugees can submit to UNHCR their asylum applications and preferred countries where they want to go, if they want to move somewhere else. Any country wishing to host refugees, such as Canada and Germany can give a number they are ready to take in and then UNHCR can forward to them the same number of application forms to consider. Safe transport can then be arranged for those asylum seekers who are approved. Other countries who do not wish to host refugees can help in different ways, for example by providing funding, or consumables, or professional staff for the camps such as doctors, carers, etc. Every country in the world should be obliged to help in some way. The countries who are bombing others must be required to fund UNHCR with the same amount of money they spend for the war. This will encourage them to stop the war as soon as possible, or at least plan it in a more efficient way. They should also be obliged to pay compensation to the family of every civilian casualty they have killed (inhumanely called “collateral damage”). There can be a special UN court that considers such applications and the evidence that backs them up. If no accountability is sought from those who kill people in foreign lands (USA, UK, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran), they will continue to kill freely. It doesn’t matter if an innocent person is killed by mistake, or intentionally – it should be treated the same way and compensation sought from the perpetrators. This is very important in order to stop the wars and the resulting displacement of population.

  31. catherine benning

    Why should the indigenous population be thrown out of their social houses and become homeless in order to alleviate homelessness for foreigners? Anyone got an answer for that insanity. That is happening today in the UK.

    And why, when there is no housing at all in many countries, should those same countries be forced to accept asylum seekers? Most are not anything other than economic migrants. Many worthless to the society they have chosen to feast off.

    The countries they flee from should be forced to pay for all the people who leave their homeland as the responsibility for them lies at their place of origin.

  32. A_Strange_Idea

    “Where there is a will, there is a way” – asylum seekers have the will to find and create homes, they just chose the wrong way. Accepting them in Europe was not a good decision, because they give up on creating a future with their own hands and put their life in someone else hands. Also, if they stayed in their country the war would’ve ended faster because of the huge anger and dislike of it. Now, however, they have come to a continent already lacking of space, and allowed their home country to extend the fighting, since only warmonger are left there. If you want a solution now, send them back to their continent. Their is more room in Asia than Europe (or Africa for that matter) and they can choose to create their own future in a new country that has enough space for them.

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