UK asylum system is driving people into destitution, MSPs warn
Report from the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee calls for a Scottish anti-destitution strategy to help people meet basic needs
The UK asylum system is lacking in “compassion and humanity” and is driving people in Scotland with insecure immigration status into destitution, according to a report from MSPs.
In a new report the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee has warned that “destitution is built into the UK asylum process”, with MSPs pointing to immigration status as a key aggravating factor in stopping people seeking asylum in Scotland from being able to meet their essential living needs.
Calling for a Scottish anti-destitution strategy, the report recommends ministers create a ‘destitution fund’ for women experiencing domestic abuse who are unable to access other sources of help, as well as a new Scottish Government advocacy service for people with insecure immigration status.
It recommends that people seeking asylum should have the right to do paid and unpaid community work in Scotland to boost integration, support asylum seekers’ mental and physical health, and provide the opportunity for asylum seekers to receive an income.
The committee called on the Scottish Government to examine the feasibility of extending the Free Bus Travel Scheme to allow destitute people with insecure immigration status to attend appointments.
The report said: “The sheer complexity and inaccessibility of the process makes it unnecessarily difficult in practical terms for someone new to the UK, who is destitute, to initiate the process. Once destitute, it is much harder for people to re-engage with the asylum process. Destitution is further built into the system by there being only certain geographical locations in the England where parts of the process can be accessed.”
The report recommends the creation of a national coordinated practitioners’ network, which would include Scottish Government officials, representatives from health boards, local authorities, non-government organisations, third sector organisations, and legal practitioners.
It also calls for an update of COSLA/local authority guidance so that local authorities dealing with people with insecure immigration status are clear on help available.
Committee convener, Christina McKelvie MSP, said: “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.”
The British Red Cross reported to the committee it had helped 820 destitute refugees and asylum seekers in 2016 in Scotland.
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