Northern Ireland asylum seekers denied access to financial help for funerals of their babies
Asylum seekers in Northern Ireland are being denied access to financial help for the funerals of their babies.
Those seeking asylum in the UK are not entitled to a Funeral Payment, which gives an average of around £1,000 to support people with low incomes towards the cost of a family member's funeral.
All housing for asylum seekers in Northern Ireland is based in Belfast, with investigative website The Detail reporting that human rights organisations have been applying pressure to Belfast City Council and other statutory bodies to help relieve the financial burden on parents when a child dies.
Belfast City Council agreed last month to waive cremation fees for all children in Northern Ireland up to the age of 17 and burial fees for children who were Belfast residents.
However, parents still have to cover the cost of a grave.
Housing4All, a Belfast-based housing group, said the Home Office's current system was "callous".
Volunteer Aylisha Hogan said: “The Home Office provides no additional support to help with the cost of funerals. I would like to see a system of seeking asylum which has fairness, dignity and compassion at the core.”
The Detail spoke to two mothers who were only able to bury their babies thanks to the financial help and support of their friends and community.
Sipho Sibanda, from Zimbabwe, and Hamdi Mahamed from Somalia, both live in Belfast and have lost children after they arrived here.
Sipho, who has been living in Belfast four three years, lost her baby daughter Amarah last May. She had a genetic disorder called Edwards Syndrome and passed away aged seven months.
Sipho said the experience of not being able to afford the cost of her babies funeral was "undignified".
“Asylum seekers are human beings and seeking asylum is not a crime," she said. "It’s not by choice people are here. If I had my choice I would be in my country. I would not leave my family. I would have wanted to have my baby in my country and to have buried her in my country.
“If you get to the stage you have to bury a loved one, away from your family – if they [government] could just make it as easy as possible; if they could just make it as simple as possible I would have been able to bury my daughter with dignity.
“The system has always been clinical. I know how horrible it was.”
She added: “There’s a lot of goodwill out there, within the community. I was relieved by the generosity of my circle of friends.”
Hamdi arrived in Northern Ireland in 2009 from Somalia where two of her daughters still live with her mother. She has not seen them since she arrived here.
She also lost a little girl called Maryan three years ago. When grieving the loss of her daughter she turned to the Home Office but was told no financial help was available for her.
When she notified the authorities that her baby daughter had died, she claims she was initially asked to refund the maternity grant of £300 she had received before her baby was born. This decision was not enforced.
She said: “I was given £300 before the baby was born. I had already bought the baby basket and clothes.
"I went to the hospital for a scan; I did not think I would be leaving to put my baby in a grave.
"They gave her to my breast and I got to hold her. She was very beautiful. It was very, very hard as I had no family.”
"I stressed so much because I could not afford the funeral or to bury my baby. Without the kindness of the charities and Belfast Islamic Centre I would not have been able to do anything.
“When someone dies, it’s outside your control. People seeking asylum can’t afford the money. I am just saying ‘please have a bit of compassion’ – even if they provided a grave; that would help.
“If anyone else is on a low income they can get support – what is different? I lost a child but I am not from here but I am still grieving the same and the child was born here.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: "The UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need our protection and we are committed to providing a safe and secure space for them.
“The Home Office provides accommodation and other assistance to cover an asylum seeker’s essential living needs.”
Belfast Telegraph Digital