“I don’t want to attend the Home Office to proceed with my claim. I don’t want to risk it,” says Dravid, 28, who arrived in the UK from India on fake documents last year.
“They may detain me and send me to Rwanda. At the moment I don’t have any choice.”
In the week the government ratcheted up its strategy to stop small boat crossings, asylum seekers have told Sky News the threat of being deported to Rwanda was already driving people underground; into a life of living illegally outside of the system with no official place in society.
We arranged to meet three men in south London who all came to the UK to claim asylum – and are all now ditching their claims and going into hiding.
Abinthan, 21, says he fled persecution and torture in Sri Lanka and then risked his life crossing the Channel in a small boat. It took him several failed attempts before he finally got to the UK at the beginning of this year.
He moves his head from side to side – with fear in his eyes – to show me how he looks around trying to avoid the police or anyone to do with authority.
“I’m very nervous,” he says. “If a police car is there I don’t go that way.”
Ayudson studied business in Sri Lanka and tells us he, too, fled persecution.
‘They’ll send us to Rwanda’
Also now in hiding, he says: “We cannot go out. We are so scared and if someone catches me they will send us to Rwanda and we don’t want to go there.”
The three men are joining a shadow world of undocumented migrants: a life surviving on doing odd jobs like cleaning and gardening for cash and staying anywhere they are offered a roof over their heads. They call what they earn “pocket money” but in reality, it’s untaxed and unaccounted-for income.
They have turned their backs on accommodation which is provided by the Home Office for asylum seekers waiting for their claims to be processed and may struggle to access some medical care.
Living as an undocumented migrant is a life Kanagasabapathy knows only too well – one of an estimated million people living illegally in the UK. Though nobody knows the number for sure.
Now aged 46, he arrived in the UK from Sri Lanka nearly 20 years ago – as a Tamil, he says he fled persecution.
His asylum claim was rejected nearly a decade ago – and for the last five years, he’s been living in the garage of someone he does odd jobs for like gardening and maintenance work.
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The garage is packed full of junk like old lawn mowers and there’s scarcely room to walk to a door at the end which leads to a space not much bigger than the bunk of a ship.
He’s not allowed to cook food for himself – presumably because of the fire risk – and survives on donated food.
The place – to be frank – is filthy. Yet he spends any spare time he has here, too afraid to interact with the outside world and conscious the Home Office is stepping up raids on people living illegally like him.
Breaking down in tears he says: “This is my normal life – I don’t know what the difference is because I’m struggling here. This is my normal life.
“I have one or two friends who live like this – sometimes they’re sleeping on the road. At least I’ve got something.”
The government is desperate to try to stop anyone else from joining its broken asylum system but Kanagasabapathy’s story is a glimpse into the future for those now in hiding.