Asylum bill runs into storm of criticism over education in centres

The government’s long-awaited Nationality,
Immigration and Asylum Bill has been criticised for proposing to
educate asylum seekers’ children in accommodation centres instead
of mainstream schools.

The bill, published last week, says all
children of asylum seekers housed in the new accommodation centres
will be educated in the centres and will not be treated as “part of
the population of a local authority’s area”.

There are plans to build four accommodation
centres across the UK to house 3,000 asylum seekers. Other asylum
seekers will continue to be dispersed by the National Asylum
Support Service.

Refugee Action chief executive Sandy Buchan
said: “We are extremely disappointed that far from tackling the
barriers to refugees’ integration and participation, such as racism
and prejudice, the bill makes things much worse by perpetuating a
culture of fear and suspicion towards asylum seekers, refugees and
those that work for them.”

Chris Holmes, director of Shelter, said he did
not support accommodation centres for asylum seekers. “It is
essential that people seeking asylum are given opportunities to
integrate into communities.”

He added that ministers must clarify when a
local authority has a duty to accommodate a person granted refugee
status or leave to remain. “It still remains uncertain who has a
duty to provide support to those whose applications for asylum are

The bill’s other proposals are broadly in line
with the Secure Borders, Safe Haven white paper published
in February (News, page 6, 14 February).

These include moves to tighten the appeals
process and the requirement for asylum seekers living in the
community to report regularly to officials or lose all government

Meanwhile, the Home Office has acknowledged
many of the criticisms of the voucher system for asylum seekers in
a report published this week.

The scheme has been condemned by refugee
groups, service providers and campaigners as stigmatising and
“inhuman” ever since its introduction in April 2000.

The fieldwork report of asylum seekers’
experiences of the voucher scheme, which finally led to this scheme
being scrapped, finds that letters from the National Asylum Support
Service explaining the scheme and how to access vouchers had not
always arrived.

Written materials were often in English and
therefore incomprehensible to their recipients, and the no-change
policy was “wasteful of resources”, it says.

Last October home secretary David Blunkett
told the House of Commons that the voucher system would be phased
out by September this year as part of a “fundamental overhaul” of
asylum policies.

But earlier this year he brought forward plans
to abolish the system and said vouchers would be replaced by a cash
system from 8 April.

Asylum Seekers’ Experiences of the
Voucher Scheme in the UK – Fieldwork Report
, from

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