Page last updated at 06:51 GMT, Tuesday, 24 February 2009

'Tortured' asylum seeker's plight

Lina Ndayi Nabintu
Lina Ndayi Nabintu is now getting housing and other benefits

An asylum seeker who says she was tortured in her homeland claims she was forced by poverty into prostitution after her bid to stay in the UK failed.

Lina Ndayi Nabintu, 29, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, refused official help to return home.

It meant she could not claim benefits and says money worries led her to trawl bars in Cardiff offering sex for £10.

The Home Office said a distinction had to be drawn between successful asylum claims and economic migrants.

I was crying inside but there was no other way to get some money
Lina Ndayi Nabintu
Ms Nabintu is one of a group of asylum seekers who have spoken out on the BBC's current affairs show Week In Week Out.

She says she was tortured as a political prisoner in DR Congo but the Home Office rejected her asylum claim.

It also rejected her appeal and under immigration rules asylum seekers who have exhausted all their legal avenues of appeal, get no housing or benefits.

Instead, they are offered financial assistance packages to return home.

But many insist they are too afraid to return, including Ms Nabintu, and do not take up the offer.

Because of backlogs in the system, thousands are not deported and stay in this country with no legal means of supporting themselves.

Ms Nabintu, who worked as a nurse in DR Congo, was in that position and said she had to turn to prostitution to support herself.

She said: "When I had been refused asylum that was when everything really turned upside down.

"I did not have anyone here. When they stopped my support they threw me out of the house and I did not have anyone to give me money or food. I just became homeless in this country.

Edie from Zimbabwe explains how and why she has become destitute

"In this situation I did not have any alternative but going to the pubs to look for someone who would go with me to give me some money to survive.

"Any man who would go with me would give me £5 or £10. I didn't have a choice.

"I was doing that with crying in my heart. I was crying inside but there was no other way to get some money.

"The men you meet... you don't know their health situation... they can be sick, they can have some diseases and have to close your eyes to do that, so you can have something to survive with."

Ms Nabintu has now made a fresh asylum claim and is getting housing and some benefits.

There are others however who chose to work illegally rather than go back to the country they left.

A Week In Week Out team followed a UK Borders Agency team on a raid of a takeaway in Newport where the entire staff apart from one local woman did not have the right to work.

Seven illegal workers were arrested at the Red Hot Goodies takeaway directly opposite Newport central police station. Three were failed asylum seekers.

Failed asylum seeker Syrian welder Jan says he is not sure where to turn

Others who stay within the law and do not work have to depend on friends and volunteers for help with food and shelter.

A Syrian welder called Jan said he drifted between Cardiff, London and other cities looking for places to stay.

"Now I am like living a miserable life - no benefit and no way to work because we are not allowed to work," he said.

"I don't know what exactly what I should do and what the solution is for this situation. It's a very critical situation for me."

Critics of the system, like retired barrister Roger Warren Evans, have attacked the way failed asylum seekers are left penniless with no right to work.

"I think using deliberate destitution as an instrument of policy is a profound wrong," he said.

'Right balance'

But government supporters like Alun Michael, a former Home Office minister and the MP for Cardiff South and Penarth, said the government has struck the right balance between a policy which is fair on genuine refugees but firm with those who are trying to cheat the system.

He said: "I think we've got the right balance in principle of saying that if people are fleeing persecution… then they are welcome here.

"If people are not in that fear they cannot come to this country on the back of being asylum seekers and refugees because they are not."

A Home Office spokesperson said: "Britain has a proud tradition of offering refuge to those who need our help. We consider every asylum application with the utmost care.

"Entering the country for economic reasons is not the same as seeking asylum, and it is important to maintain a clear distinction between the two.

"Those individuals whose cases have been concluded and who are denied the right to work have no legal right to remain in the UK and are expected to return home.

"There is no need for asylum seekers to be destitute. We provide measures that ensure that individuals are not destitute and work to ensure that all are treated with respect and humanity."

Week In Week Out: Stuck in the System is on BBC One Wales at 2235 GMT on Tuesday.

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