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Scottish Tories urge Home Office to allow asylum seekers to work

Image credit: Red Cross

Scottish Tories urge Home Office to allow asylum seekers to work

The Scottish Conservatives have broken with UK party policy to support giving asylum seekers the right to work.

With people seeking asylum currently prohibited from working or accessing the mainstream welfare system, campaigners and opposition parties have urged the Home Office to change policy and allow those with a claim which has not been resolved within six months to look for employment.

But while the UK Government has so far resisted calls, Scottish Conservative Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Communities Michelle Ballantyne has written to the Home Secretary to urge her Westminster colleague to change policy.

Speaking in a chamber debate, she said: “It is important to provide asylum seekers with basic amenities, but we could do more. During the time it takes to go through the process of seeking asylum, which can be years, we need to ensure that we do not put people’s lives on hold, waste the skills that people have or prevent them from developing as people. If we do not ensure that asylum seekers have the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to their own lives as well as to their host nation, we do everyone a disservice.

“For that reason, the UK Government should investigate relaxing the rules for asylum seekers looking for work in the UK. Although I appreciate that asylum seekers can currently engage in voluntary work, if we really want to ensure that individuals are able to prosper here, and should they ever wish to return to their countries, the prospect of employment is essential.”

In a report last year the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee 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.

The Committee recommended that people seeking asylum should have the right to do paid work in Scotland to boost integration, support asylum seekers’ mental and physical health, and provide the opportunity for asylum seekers to receive an income.

Scottish Green co-convener Patrick Harvie welcomed the comments from Ballantyne.

He said: “It’s welcome to hear the Scottish Conservatives are challenging the UK government’s policy by supporting the right of asylum seekers to work, but that’s only one aspect of the wholesale change that’s needed in the asylum system.

“While people are living in brutal conditions, facing the continual threat of eviction, destitution and detention without trial, few could seriously be expected to hold down a job.

“The current asylum system is designed to reject as many people as possible and it uses destitution as a weapon of fear. We need to transform it into one which is based on human rights, respect and basic dignity. The asylum debate at Holyrood must be a demand for that change and I challenge the Conservatives to join the clear majority making that demand.”

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