The frenzy around the asylum debate, being whipped up by daily pronouncements from the Government and the Opposition, is creating a climate of fear and insecurity and engendering an impression among the public that the asylum system is out of control, warns the Refugee Council.
Margaret Lally, acting Chief Executive of the Refugee Council said: “Tough sounding rhetoric and harsh policies are making life miserable for asylum seekers and irresponsibly causing anxiety among the public. Refugees are facing an unprecedented political and media onslaught.
“Talk of crisis and meltdown is politically inspired hyperbole and is failing to address the real problems causing a crippling lack of confidence in the system.
“What the public wants to know – and has a right to know – is what the real problems in the asylum system are and how the Government intends to sort out them out.”
The Refugee Council believes both the Government and the Opposition are floundering around trying to out-tough each other, without real solutions to make the asylum system fair and effective. The Government needs to restore confidence in the system and today the Refugee Council launches its own proposals on how this could be achieved.
Margaret Lally continues: “We are not saying that everyone claiming asylum in the UK will qualify for protection under international or humanitarian law. But we do believe – like most people – that all asylum applicants should have their cases considered fairly and be treated with dignity while they wait for their cases to be decided. Our five point plan is the first serious set of proposals in recent weeks putting forward much-needed, cost effective and achievable reforms.”
The Government must concentrate on producing fair and fast decisions on asylum claims, through adequate resourcing. Reforming the current decision-making system is the key to reforming the whole asylum system. The asylum determination system must be ‘front-loaded’, i.e. resources must be focussed on getting good quality and defensible decisions as soon as possible. Poor decisions add to the length and expense of the system as a whole because they are often successfully challenged. An efficient system will allow people given permission to stay in Britain to quickly rebuild their lives and failed asylum seekers to be returned to their countries of origin. An independent body providing documentation on countries of origin will bring confidence and credibility to the system. Home Office figures show that 42% of asylum applicants are granted permission to stay on asylum or humanitarian grounds, although many after first being wrongly refused. (1)
The Government should immediately restore welfare support to destitute asylum seekers. The result of this ill-thought through measure is vulnerable people being left hungry and homeless. The failure of the voucher system has shown that a system of support that is socially divisive will fail.
The Government has proposed that all asylum seekers be put through a 7 day induction process. We believe that this would be a sensible procedure ensuring asylum seekers know their rights and responsibilities and will give them immediate orientation to the UK. It will ensure their health and support needs are assessed and that the initial screening of their asylum case can begin.
Following induction, asylum seekers should be housed in small centres in urban areas.(2) Additional support should be provided to existing local services to help them cater for the needs of asylum seekers as well as other members of the local community. The Government’s proposals for large rural based accommodation centres are wrong in principle and practice, will accommodate just a few asylum seekers and will be hugely expensive. Opposition demands for large detention centres will fall into the same trap and also will result in innocent men, women and children being deprived of their liberty, when no crime has been committed.
Asylum seekers should be allowed to work while their asylum claim is being assessed. The public would be astounded to find out that asylum seekers are not allowed to work and are forced by Government policy to live off state support. This measure would restore pride and self-respect to asylum seekers and allow them to contribute to the economy and society.
Underpinning these proposals to build a credible asylum process that everyone can have faith in is the need for politicians to provide accurate information on the plight of refugees.
Margaret Lally said: “The public must be given the facts so that they can have a full and true picture of the asylum system. It is imperative that politicians of all parties stop pandering to the media’s vitriol about asylum seekers and instead remind the public who refugees actually are – ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances who have fled terror and torture.
“Talk of withdrawing from human rights and refugee conventions is a deliberate distraction from addressing the real problems. Such comments will further erode public confidence in the system, not least with its implication that people should be returned to face torture or possible death at the hands of tyrants. We believe that the public would be horrified if this was allowed to happen.”
Notes to Editors
1. See http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs2/hosb902.pdf
2. The Refugee Council has proposed an alternative accommodation model to the Government, which it is currently giving serious consideration. Download a policy briefing.