Isolation is morally wrong

The government’s desire to see asylum seekers
isolated from society is abhorrent, says Sandy Buchan.

Heralded by the government as a radical reform
of asylum policy, the new Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill
does little to bestow this highly politicised area with the trust
and confidence the home secretary seeks. For too long the UK has
sought to deter would-be asylum seekers, effectively criminalising
people in need of protection through restrictive immigration
measures and punitive welfare provision.

Seeking asylum is not a crime.
Tough-talking new plans to remove more people more quickly from the
UK jeopardises the full hearing of asylum cases. A robust asylum
policy is based on protecting and welcoming refugees. Yet we
continue to drive desperate people into grinding poverty, and
subject them to a dispersal policy that causes suffering. All too
often, rather than entering the land of safety they had imagined,
asylum seekers encounter daily racism, violence and abuse. It is
time to learn from the mistakes of the past and to listen to asylum
seekers, communities and service providers.

proposal Refugee Action is urging the government to reconsider is
the piloting of accommodation centres for asylum seekers. Instead,
it should prioritise integration through centres that are small, in
or near likely host communities with good access to independent
advocates, including suitably trained lawyers and translators.
Centres should be mixed, with a high proportion of bilingual staff
and freedom of movement. They should be short-stay and support
onward integration, including housing, career development and the
education of children in mainstream schools. Above all, centres
should orientate and welcome new arrivals, and facilitate fast and
fair hearing of cases.

Integration must begin on arrival
– most refugees want to work and learn English but are invariably
prevented from doing so by barriers such as racism.

The UK
hosts just 1.4 per cent of the world’s refugee population, about
71,700 applicants last year. It is disappointing that legislators
persist in devising policy that perpetuates a culture of fear
towards asylum seekers, refugees and those who work with them.
Surely the UK could herald a new way of working with asylum seekers
by reaffirming our commitment to the principles enshrined in the UN
Refugee Convention 1951, which reminds us that action is still
urgently needed. Protecting, welcoming and integrating asylum
seekers should be the touchstone of all asylum policy and service
provision. Only then will trust and confidence ensue.

Sandy Buchan is chief executive
of Refugee Action.

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.