The Refugee Council today publishes a briefing paper calling on the government to reconsider its plans to withdraw free English lessons for asylum seekers (ESOL). The release contributes to a wider campaign, coordinated by the University and College Union, to reinstate the right to free ESOL provision.
The government has stated its commitment to integration and community cohesion, in which learning English has become so important it is now a requirement for citizenship. At the very same time, the Learning and Skills Council has announced it will no longer fund basic ESOL classes for asylum seekers, or refugees who are in work.
The briefing paper details the real risks associated with limiting the ability of asylum seekers and refugees to learn English. Asylum seekers will struggle to access basic services, more will have to be spent on interpreting, and should they be given permission to stay in the UK they will find it harder to integrate into the wider community. For refugees, limiting access to English classes will increase the difficulties they already face in building new lives in the UK and finding work. Many refugees are unemployed or in jobs which don’t use their skills and experience, and refugee communities are among the poorest in the country.
Anna Reisenberger, acting Chief Executive of the Refugee Council said:
“In a year in which the Prime Minister himself has emphasised the importance of learning English¹, and there has been widespread criticism of the amount of money being spent on translation and interpreting costs, it is astonishing that the government has made this decision. Asylum seekers are dispersed around the country to live as part of British communities. How is it going to be possible to promote social inclusion when people are unable to talk to each other, and newly arrived asylum seekers find it a struggle just to go into local shops and buy a pint of milk?
“In the longer term, stopping people from being able to learn English, or take up a range of courses, will harm the economy, and make it even more difficult for refugees to find work once they have been given leave to stay in the UK.
“The government’s own integration strategy states that learning English is essential to avoid people being marginalised. The longer people are here without access to English classes, the more fragmented communities will become. We urge the government to scrap these cuts for the good of all of us.”
Notes to editor
1. Prime Minister’s Official Press Conference October 2006 “it is important in my view that people who come into the country and settle here, learn to speak English”.
2. The briefing can be accessed through the Refugee Council’s website. For further information, please call Bob Deffee on 020 7346 6712 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. The University and College Union, in partnership with the Refugee Council and other organisations, campaign for the funding for free ESOL restored.
See also: UCU campaigns – ESOL
4. Read our letter to Bill Rammell, Minister of State for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education with regards to the ESOL cuts and his reply.
Letter from Anna Reisenberger, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council to Bill Rammell, MP(PDF)