The two-tier system in place currently must be changedby Thangam Debbonaire / May 15, 2017 / Leave a comment
“You sit on the back, where it is warm, where the engine is. You just go from one terminal bus stop to another terminal bus stop until the morning.”
Sat in a rather old-fashioned committee room in the Houses of Parliament, it was pretty hard to hear those words. Along with parliamentarians from a range of political parties, I was listening to Kolbassia talk about his experience of being a refugee in the UK. Kolbassia, a survivor of torture, was telling us how after receiving a positive decision on his asylum application he found himself homeless.
Kolbassia was giving evidence as part of a cross-party inquiry into the experiences of new refugees in the UK. The inquiry was undertaken by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees, a group I have chaired since I became an MP in 2015. We wanted to learn more about how successfully refugees are able to integrate after being given their refugee status.
During the inquiry we had heard from local councils, charities, faith groups and, most importantly, refugees themselves and we published our report “Refugees Welcome?” at the end of April, shortly before Parliament was dissolved ahead of the General Election. Sadly, but perhaps not surprisingly, Kolbassia’s story was far from unique.
After an asylum-seeker is granted refugee status they’re given 28 days before the financial support they’d been receiving from the Home Office is stopped and they have to leave the accommodation they were provided with while waiting for a decision. During that 28 days—commonly referred to as the “move-on period”—refugees have to find new accommodation and secure another form of income, whether it’s through employment or social security payments. For too many refugees, that 28 days isn’t long enough and people who have been recognised as being in need of protection by the UK government find themselves homeless and destitute.
We heard from refugees who didn’t receive their identity documents or National Insurance numbers before the end of the 28 days, preventing them from being able to successfully transition. One man told us that his documentation was sent to the Home Office property he had been living in when waiting for a decision—a property he no longer had access to, as he’d been made to leave at the end of the move-on period.
No support is provided by the government during this period. A service that used to help newly recognised refugees was scrapped in 2011 by the coalition government. Refugees told us how the elation they felt when finally being awarded their status was all too quickly replaced by despair when they found themselves with nowhere to go.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Refugees who arrive directly in the UK through one of the resettlement programmes receive much better support. The government funds local authorities hosting resettled refugees—such as those Syrians currently arriving under the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme—so that they can provide housing, support in finding employment, and English language classes. For this group, the government has acknowledged that helping refugees to successfully integrate is vital if the protection they’re given is to be worth more than a piece of paper.
In our report, we warn of a two-tier system of protection for refugees. On the one hand, refugees who come through the asylum system are left on their own, relying on help from charities and faith groups. On the other, resettled refugees are provided with accommodation and support to rebuild their lives.
We recommend that all refugees should receive the support they need to integrate well. To achieve this, we’ve called for a National Refugee Integration Strategy, overseen by a dedicated Minister for Refugees. The strategy would aim to ensure that all refugees are able to rebuild their lives and make full use of their talents and abilities to take part in, and contribute to, British society.
Debates around immigration will play a key part of the general election and will continue in parliament when MPs return in June. In those debates, we must be sure not to lose sight of the importance of providing a place of safety for those fleeing war and persecution. For whoever forms the next government, the recommendations we’ve made in our report offer a blueprint for successful integration. This would be good for refugees and good for Britain.
The full report is available here