There is already a significant amount of community goodwill- as seen across our membership and beyond- to ensure dignity and compassion for all who seek protection in the UK. However, if these values are to be truly embedded in our society, there is a clear need for political will to make positive and lasting change to the current system of support. As such, NACCOM welcomes the APPG on Refugees’ report which came out today, ‘Refugees Welcome?’, and its recommendations around improvements to the current model which, if enacted, could prevent a ‘two-tiered’ system and promote equality for all refugees, regardless of how they come to the UK.
Some of the ways in which newly recognised refugees can face barriers to integration include problems with accessing accommodation, entitlements and employment- leading to periods of destitution and homelessness- as well as issues around accessing English classes and specialist healthcare. These issues are often exacerbated by the short ‘move on’ period of 28 days, and we welcome the report’s recommendations for this period to be extended, and for delays in the system- which cause untold stress and anxiety for refugees- to be properly addressed.
Within NACCOM, several members support refugees in addition to destitute asylum seekers and other migrants. Housing, for those who come to the end of the ‘move on’ period, or any refugee who finds themselves without a roof over their head, is a vital way of enabling people to settle in communities and decide on their next steps without worrying about finding somewhere safe to sleep. One of the network’s longstanding members, the Boaz Trust in Manchester, has recently reported that this year’s winter night shelter saw at least as many refugees as asylum seeking guests requiring emergency provision between October 2016 and April 2017. The problem of homelessness amongst refugees has also been demonstrated in a report last year by Refugee Council.
As a network, we are committed to working with others and building capacity to promote safety and shelter for those in need. Yet voluntary groups cannot solve this problem on their own and we agree with the findings of the report that Local Authorities could more to reduce barriers to access for those with refugee status (for instance, around the ‘local connections rule’). We also welcome the recommendation that the Home Office should ensure refugees do not face additional barriers to accessing private accommodation, for instance, via the ‘Right to Rent’ legislation.
As part of our commitment to promote lasting pathways out of destitution, we also welcome the report’s recommendations that restrictions on the right to work should be reduced for those awaiting decisions within the asylum process, as this is a huge barrier to accessing work once a positive decision is made. In addition, it is the experience of many of our members that most asylum seekers who cannot already communicate in English are keen to learn, and the problems that miscommunication, both written and verbal, can cause throughout the asylum process and beyond are wide-ranging. Conversely, those refugees who are supported to access English classes from early on describe the confidence and insight this gives them into British culture and their rights and responsibilities within it, and makes finding work significantly easier for obvious reasons. We therefore welcome the recommendation that a National Refugee Integration Strategy should be introduced, with a Minister responsible, and that this should incorporate a strategy for ESOL provision. Furthermore, several of our members cite examples of working with their Local Authorities and health providers to ensure commissioned services can support the specialist needs of refugees and asylum seekers. As such, we welcome the report’s recommendation that the Department of Health should work with Clinical Commissioning Groups to ensure needs are met sufficiently.
It is also the experience of our members and service users that a significant barrier to integration lies in the demoralising and arduous process of applying for asylum. This process wreaks people’s lives in many practical ways, including physical and mental health and community networks, and can as a result affect people’s ability to contribute to society once they are granted status. As such, we reiterate our position that any changes in the recent government policy to review refugee status after five years of settlement will only serve to inhibit this already fragile and complex process.