Scottish Government demands "urgent action" to improve treatment of asylum seekers
Home Affairs Select Committee report finds asylum seekers are living in “shameful” conditions
Angela Constance - credit: Parliament TV
The Scottish Government has demanded the Home Office take “urgent action” to address the treatment of people seeking asylum in the UK, after a Home Affairs Select Committee report laid bare failings in the system.
The Home Affairs Select Committee report, ‘Asylum accommodation’, catalogues examples of asylum seekers living in what it describes as “shameful” conditions.
MPs heard of people being forced to live in unclean accommodation, with families unable to put their children down on dirty carpet and rotten sofas.
The report found that infestations of mice, rats and bedbugs were the second biggest source of complaint from people living in dispersed accommodation.
Calling for urgent reform, it warns “some of this accommodation is a disgrace and it is shameful that some very vulnerable people have been placed in such conditions”.
Housing services are delivered as part of the ‘Commercial and Operational Managers Procuring Asylum Support Services’ (COMPASS) contract, which sees Serco provide accommodation and transport services to asylum applicants in Scotland, along with parts of England and Northern Ireland.
Responding to the report, the Scottish Refugee Council said COMPASS contracts should be replaced with a completely new system once the present contracts expire in 2019.
The SRC also backed recommendations from the report that devolved countries and local authorities should get more input into decision making, so they can plan and coordinate dispersal to best meet the needs of people seeking asylum.
Describing the report as “deeply concerning”, Equalities Secretary Constance said it was “the latest in a long list of claims about quality of accommodation provided to asylum seekers”.
She said: “Urgent action is now needed by the Home Office. As a matter reserved to the UK Government, they must ensure that asylum seekers, many of whom have endured great hardship and are particularly vulnerable, are treated with dignity and respect at all stages of the asylum process, including access to good quality, safe and secure housing.
“We are committed to ensuring asylum seekers and refugees find protection, safety and security in Scotland, and we will continue to work closely with local authorities and COSLA to provide education, health and welfare support to those who arrive in this country.
“I will await the Home Office response with interest, and am ready to be fully involved in discussions on how the recommendations in the report can be taken forward in Scotland.”
Scottish Refugee Council Policy Officer Graham O’Neill said the report was “a damning indictment” showing the current model of service provision is “not fit for purpose”.
He said: “This is a public service for people who really need it, who have come from trauma including war, torture, sexual violence or the loss of family members.
“It is desperately important that these people have a safe space to recover from what they have gone through.
“But the current model is not fit for purpose. The inspection regime does not work, and journalists and charities have been forced to do the job of the state in uncovering appalling housing conditions and treatment of vulnerable people.”
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