In recent years, public outcry on issues relating to refugee support, and government-sponsored programmes such as the Syrian Resettlement Scheme, have indicated growing recognition of the needs and rights of refugees in this country.
It is therefore extremely disappointing and deeply concerning to see the indication by the Home Office last week that officials will be requiring refugees to undergo a review of their settlement after five years. Full details of the policy can be found here. Regardless of how and when such a policy could even be enforced, this announcement alone will have caused anxiety and fear amongst refugees who have completed the application process, including those with families and other loved ones here. Meanwhile, it has been widely condemned by leaders in the sector, including Refugee Council and Refugee Action.
The process of applying for refugee status in this country is not easy- it is stressful, complicated and arduous. For many it involves what can become an often prolonged period of homelessness. Indeed, all those refused asylum seekers supported by NACCOM projects (last year an estimated 800+) have faced this life in ‘limbo’ when, with no support by the government, they are forced to rely on friends, voluntary groups or charities to avoid utter destitution.
Most who eventually get refugee status have had to submit more than one application, and many have to represent themselves during this process because of cuts in legal aid. It is not hard to imagine how difficult and uncertain this period is for those who have already suffered so much to get here. Once granted status, it can take years to settle, find work and build relationships. This whole process is made significantly harder by the short period of time people have to move out of their refugee accommodation and find somewhere to live (28 days), alongside cuts in funding for language courses and delays with National Insurance numbers which prevent immediate access to entitlements or employment.
Against this backdrop, the government’s suggestion that they will now implement these reviews after five years significantly undercuts efforts to show welcome to those in need. Indeed it does the opposite, extending the fear, hostility and uncertainty experienced by those whose lives have been destroyed by conflict or persecution and then dehumanised by our country’s immigration system.
As well as being extremely complex to implement, many point out that this shift in practice would have a damaging impact on wider society and the UK economy, as greater levels of uncertainty could easily prevent refugees from finding employment that reflects their education, skills and experience.
Within NACCOM, a network of generally small projects preventing homelessness amongst those with no recourse to public funds, we are also very concerned that the consequences of this change- if enacted- could be higher levels of destitution amongst the refugee community. This is because returns to countries (including those perceived to be ‘safe’) are demonstrably difficult to do, so- as is often the case for those refused asylum and yet left in ‘limbo’- those deemed ‘able to return’ may in practice become destitute again.
In light of all these reasons, we believe it is clear that such a policy should not be enforced, and alongside others, we ask that the government’s attention focuses instead on improving decision-making processes and support levels for those within the asylum process, and improving the move-on process to reduce destitution amongst those granted refugee status.
For an open letter calling on the government to reverse this policy, signed by NACCOM and around 50 other organisations and coordinated by Right to Remain, please click here.