Dear Boris Johnson,
You have been awarded a position of immense responsibility – and with it, the crucial opportunity to make much-needed reforms to a hostile environment that has had devastating consequences on refugees and people seeking asylum in the UK.
We welcome the Government’s recent commitment to continue offering life-saving resettlement places to the world’s most vulnerable refugees through intensive and needs-based support. The UK is rightly proud to be a global leader in resettlement. Yet this stands in stark contrast to the support that refugees who come here through the asylum process receive.
For years, far too many refugees – people who fled from conflict and persecution, who were forced to leave their homes, their loved ones, their jobs, and their communities to find a place of safety – have experienced homelessness and destitution just at the point when their claim for asylum has been approved and they were recognised in need of protection.
Newly-recognised refugees have only 28 days – known as the ‘move-on’ period – to leave their asylum accommodation, find a new home, establish an income, and access mainstream services. 28 days would be too short for most people to complete these tasks; for refugees, government policies have made it nearly impossible.
Because English language classes are seldom available to people while they are seeking asylum, refugees often have to navigate this complex process with limited English. Because people seeking asylum are provided with only £5.37 per day and are banned from working, it is unlikely they will have been able to build up any savings once they receive refugee status. The introduction of Universal Credit with a 35-day assessment period has now made the situation for newly-recognised refugees even bleaker: start their new lives in debt or become destitute.
Imagine finally feeling safe, maybe for the first time in years, while simultaneously being plunged into a dangerous situation of confusion and uncertainty.
When we consider that, in contrast, resettled refugees are provided with accommodation and individualised casework support from the day they arrive, it is clear why resettlement is so transformative. The same principles should apply to refugees who come through the asylum route, who may come from the same countries as those who are resettled and who likely fled the same conflicts.
The leadership exhibited in committing to resettlement programmes has been sorely lacking when it comes to the move-on period. At a time when refugees should be able to feel a sense of relief and joy, they are instead facing a terrifying cliff edge.
You now have the power to make Britain not only a global leader in resettlement but one in asylum, as well. You have the power to develop a holistic government strategy that brings all relevant departments together to improve the ways in which the government supports newly-recognised refugees. You have the power to take debt and destitution out of the equation.
From all of us at Refugee Council, we hope you will join us in working to reform the move-on period and provide newly-recognised refugees with a stable foundation from which to rebuild their lives in safety.
Maurice Wren, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council