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MSPs rail against "destitution" under UK's asylum system

22 May 2017

A strategy to tackle the destitution "built into the UK asylum process” is called for in a report published today by the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities & Human Rights Committee.

The MSPs want to see a package to help hundreds of people with insecure immigration status in Scotland, who they describe as facing destitution – meaning not having adequate accommodation, or a way of finding it, or being unable to meet essential living needs – that often results in exploitation, ill health and misery.

As many of the avenues people can use to find accommodation or social security are not available to those with insecure immigration status – including people trafficked to the UK, people whose right to be in the UK was linked to an ex-partner, and many in the asylum process – this status is a key aggravating factor leading to destitution, the MSPs found.

The British Red Cross alone reported to the committee it had helped 820 destitute refugees and asylum seekers in 2016 in Scotland, and the committee heard direct evidence from other individuals facing destitution, including abused and trafficked women.

The committee's recommendations range from practical measures, such as allowing asylum claims to be made in Scotland, rather than in Croydon or Liverpool, to proposing the creation of a Scottish anti-destitution strategy, bringing together all levels of Government and the third sector to mitigate destitution. Proposals include:

  • a new Scottish Government advocacy service for people with insecure immigration status;
  • a national coordinated practitioners’ network, including Scottish Government officials, representatives from health boards, local authorities, non-government organisations, third sector organisations, and legal practitioners;
  • a Scottish Government feasibility study into extending the free bus travel scheme to allow destitute people with insecure immigration status to attend appointments;
  • where clinicians consider an individual with insecure immigration status has an infectious disease that requires accommodation, this should be funded by the Scottish Government as a preventative measure;
  • a new Scottish "Destitution Fund" for women experiencing domestic abuse unable to access other sources of help;
  • updating the COSLA/local authority guidance so that local authorities dealing with people with insecure immigration status are clear on help available;
  • giving asylum seekers the right to do paid community work in Scotland – allowing for better integration opportunities, supporting mental and physical health, and providing an opportunity to receive an income.

Committee convener Christina McKelvie MSP commented: “Our inquiry exposed a serious lack of compassion and humanity in the current system, which is leading hundreds to destitution. This is simply unacceptable.

“In spite of the best efforts of voluntary organisations and some in local government, there are huge gaps in the system that need to be addressed as a matter of priority. That’s why we are making both specific recommendations to all levels of government, and calling for a wider strategy to draw together all of the bodies who can improve this situation.

“With the ongoing refugee crisis and humanitarian problems around the world, this isn’t a problem likely to go away overnight. As a committee, we will keep an eye on progress, regularly checking improvement in the response to destitution.”

Click here to access the report.


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