Refugee Week 2013: Struggle for Survival

This Refugee Week, DDVG shows solidarity with people suffering under the UK’s asylum support system and demanding basic human respect.

Detained in the UK

Christine and Angie on the Ex-Detainee Project and the staff at DDVG are used to standing up for their clients.

This Refugee Week, they’re going one better by sharing in the experiences of their clients who are made to survive under the UK’s gruelling Section 4 regime.

Section 4 is for asylum seekers whose claims have been initially refused by the Home Office, even if they’re appealing or can’t be removed. Asylum seekers with undetermined cases are banned from working or accessing any mainstream benefits in the UK. The Home Office regularly takes years to determine a case.

In a demonstration of solidarity Section 4, staff at DDVG will try to live according to the rules of the samepunitive regime.

Christine points out that the experience cannot live up to the reality of struggling to survive on Section 4, saying: ‘We can’t replicate the indignity”.

“We won’t be presenting stigmatizing prepaid cards for our groceries. Most supermarkets are unfamiliar with these government cards, which causes hold-ups and friction at the check-out. Above all, we only have to live under the regime for a week. None of this is the case for people living on asylum support”.

However, staff at DDVG want to try to live as if they are under Section 4 to raise awareness of what it’s like, she said.

The 4 Rules of Section 4 Survival

Detained in the UK

Even though we can’t replicate Section 4 conditions, these rules will help participants glimpse something of what it’s like to survive on so little.

1. £5 per day
Spending is capped at £35.39. This includes all food and toiletries – no exceptions. Section 4 support is £35.39 per week (which is £5.05 a day).

2. No cheap shops
Only shops that allow the Section 4 prepaid card (the ‘Azure card’) are allowed. Section 4 is a cashless system.

3. No life hacks
No digging out that old pack of pasta or neglected tin of beans at the back of the cupboard. Same goes for shampoo, shower gel, shaving foam, razors. People on Section 4 have to start from scratch.

4. No transport
The only driving allowed is to the office and to Dover Immigration Removal Centre. All other trips must be on foot. Our clients walk up to an hour and back to the nearest Section 4 permitted supermarket.

The verdict: extracts from our survival journals

Detained in the UK

Most participants commented on how the challenge to survive on the equivalent of Section 4 support – £35.39 in selected shops, no cash, no work – seemed feasible at first, as long as they remembered that the challenge would be over in seven days. The prospect of living out the same experiences, week after week, would defeat us.

Most of us had ran out of money half way through the week.  As one participant said: “This week feels like camping; you can do it as long as you know you’ll be back to normal next week”.

The £5 per day allowance might seem sufficient, but when you’re cut off from public transport under Section 4’s cashless system. people found they were: “absolutely ravenous due to all the walking”.


“It was my nephew’s birthday on Thursday. I didn’t buy him card or gift. I could have bought a card at the supermarket with the money remaining in my budget but I had run out of milk so I chose to buy milk”.

Impact on children

“My 5 year old daughter complained of being thirsty walking back from school and asked if I could buy her a bottle of water in the shop. I had to make her wait until we got home. The shop was not one that accepts Azure card and in any event I wouldn’t have had enough money”.

“Kids very cranky and tired from all the walking and I was cranky right back at them for the same reason”.

“My daughter asked me to take her to the park. I thought well, this is free. Minutes later she asked me for a 35p sweet, which I couldn’t get. Next time she will ask for the sweet again. I will have the 35p but an asylum seeker will not. In these situations asylum children will have to be told no. no. no. This make my heart shrink as a mother”.


“I have a doctor’s appointment. The surgery is a good 25 minutes walk from my children’s school. I make it on time by the skin of my teeth, huffing and sweating. Then to the pharmacy, which is nearby. It would be nice to pop into town and have a look around the shops, or stop for a coffee but I haven’t any money, so might as well go home”.


“I read my book for a while as section 4 accommodation doesn’t stretch to TV. Would I have been able to get a library card with only the ARC card for proof of identity?”

No purpose

“My kids gave me a purpose to my day but boredom set in after they’d gone to bed. If I didn’t have them see to and structure of the school day I don’t know how I would have spent my time with nothing to get up for – no work or school run”.

“No money to go anywhere unless it’s walking distance. I could have had a walk to the park but if that were my only option in terms of entertainment I think it would get old pretty quickly”.

“I can see that living without a purpose for any length of time could really impact my self-esteem”.


“Cash in your pocket – even a very little – confers dignity. A cashless card makes you feel like a child to be controlled”.

Lessons learned

This week has given us a taste of the conditions our clients are made to endure as a punishment when their asylum claims are formally refused; even though these decisions to refuse by the Home Office are often wrong and often overturned with legal advice and representation – which may account for some of the various legal aid cuts the government has enacted – and is still proposing.

Rather than trying to limit challenges to its poor decisions, perhaps the government would do well to reflect on its goal of creating a ‘punitive regime’ to coerce the asylum seekers it initially ‘fails’ into returning to countries of origin before a final decision is reached.

Section 4 is degrading and inhumane. People claiming asylum should be allowed to work and provide for themselves and their families, at least until the Home Office reaches a final decision in their case. Support should be in cash and at a living standard – at least then people could get the bus to the doctor’s or treat their kids to water and sweets at the park.

Even awaiting a final Home Office decision, our clients are still human still here.


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