Homeless failed asylum seekers have created a 'hidden underclass' of about 2,000 people in Birmingham, according to a study commissioned by churches in the city.
The homeless plight of the vast majority is masked because most are sleeping on the floors of friends and of others in their community with up to 14 people living in one terraced house, according to reports.
The results have been released as part of National Refugee Week, which starts today.
The study, carried out between October 2004 and March 2005, warned that the number of asylum seekers heading to Birmingham had not fallen since the study and the problem led to an increased risk of those affected turning to crime.
About 70 per cent of those considered destitute - principally from Iraq, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Somalia and Iran, as well as EU accession countries - have exhausted all appeals for asylum and have been evicted from accommodation provided by the Government's National Asylum Support System (NASS) and had benefits terminated.
About 10 per cent have had their claim accepted but have not had the paperwork entitling them to benefits and alternative living quarters.
Others are thought to have complicated legal claims and poor or no proper legal advice, or are mentally or physically vulnerable and have 'fallen through the net'. The study, entitled Destitution of Asylum-Seekers and Refugees in Birmingham, was commissioned by Birmingham Churches Together and the Church Urban Fund.
"It seems that the vast majority are relying on the support of friends and people from their communities," said the report. "Very few are sleeping on the streets and the assumption is that most are sleeping in very overcrowded accommodation.
"We have gone back to the '50s and '60s when newlyarrived immigrant communities survived through kinship but often in atrocious conditions, such as having 14 people in a small terraced house," said one of the researchers.
The danger is that the refugees slip into a life of crime or work in the black economy.
"I remember working in Kings Cross in London and doing street work with young women who had come down from Northern cities to work in prostitution," said a spokesman from one charity group.
"The only difference now is that instead of being from Sheffield they are more likely to be from Romania."
The precise number of refugees in the city is unknown as accurate records are not kept - one of the major problems in Birmingham, according to the report.
NASS insists there are only 30 destitute asylum seekers in Birmingham. But the Regional Consortium for Refugees and Asylum Seekers puts the figure at 10,000 and the Refugee Network estimates it is between 5-10,000.
The Red Cross believes the number is on the rise.
"Sadly the situation is very likely to get worse," concluded one of the authors of the report.
"Although the numbers of asylum-seekers nationally has decreased, this has not necessarily been mirrored in the numbers of people coming to Birmingham, which continues to be a city that many refugees are attracted to."
It claimed the laws of the land had deliberately created a "new underclass".
"Not allowed to work, not allowed to claim support, not allowed to exist," it said. "If they remain hidden and out of sight then perhaps the problem does not exist. But of course it does and this small study has confirmed that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of destitute refugees and asylum-seekers in Birmingham."
National Refugee Week aims to raise awareness of the plight of refugees and highlight the contribution they have made to British life.