A landmark cross-party report has found that Government policies are creating a costly “two-tier system” of refugee protection leaving many homeless and destitute, seriously damaging their prospects of integration.
‘Refugees Welcome?’, released today by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Refugees, found that refugees want to contribute their skills and talents to the UK, but face a number of barriers. While the report praised the dedicated support refugees arriving in the UK through one of the Government-led resettlement programmes receive, the report finds that people whose refugee status is granted following an asylum claim are left to rely on charities and local individuals.
Delays and confusion about important paper from Government departments; a cliff-edge of support following a positive decision on refugee status; patchy English language provision; and a lack of employment and skills support are all found to prevent many refugees integrating successfully.
The Chair of the APPG, Thangam Debbonaire MP, described the disparity as a “costly missed opportunity for Britain”.
Ahead of the General Election, the report recommends the incoming Government provides support to all refugees so that they can fulfil their potential and contribute to the UK. It recommends:
- The creation of a National Refugee Integration Strategy, to be overseen by a specially appointed cross-departmental Government Minister for Refugees.
- More than doubling the so-called move on period from Home Office support, the time given to newly recognised refugees to find new accommodation after they receive a positive decision on their status. The current 28-day period often results in destitution for newly recognised refugees in the UK currently.
- Providing extra support for newly recognised refugees and streamlining the process by which new refugees are assigned National Insurance Numbers and identity documents.
- Extra funding for English language classes.
Commenting, Thangam Debbonaire, Labour MP for Bristol West and Chair of the APPG, said:
“A refugee is a refugee however they were granted status. Most will want to return home when conflict is over and in the meantime want to contribute to this country.These are often skilled professionals, and by definition, they all have strength and determination to offer.
“But there are administrative flaws in the system which could be easily fixed. Creating a two-tier system for refugees, loading the dice against people who come here to build a new life, is not just the wrong thing to do, but a costly missed opportunity for Britain.
“The UK can learn from the positives examples of the resettlement programme and the Scottish integration scheme to enable refugees to contribute and feel welcomed. Refugees bring so many talents and skills – they just need the opportunities to unlock their potential.”
David Burrowes, Conservative MP for Enfield Southgate and Vice Chair of the APPG, said:
“For too many refugees, being granted their status is the beginning of a period characterised by homelessness and destitution. Protection must mean more than just a piece of paper.
“As the UK prepares to leave the EU, the way in which we treat refugees can show that we intend to remain a global facing country that takes the lead in responding compassionately. The Government should work with communities up and down the country who want to welcome refugees to provide the opportunities for refugees to contribute to the UK.”
One refugee affected by the issues uncovered in the report is Anas (not his real name) who was forced to flee Syria after ISIS occupied his university and Assad’s regime attempted to draft him into the army.
After fleeing to Britain, Anas was recognised as a refugee. However, a spelling mistake by the Home Office on his official paperwork left him unable to access jobseekers support or secure accommodation. Combined with lengthy delays in his paperwork being fixed, this resulted in Anas spending five months homeless, jobless and without any financial support whatsoever. He was forced to rely on the staffroom biscuit tin at the charity shop where he volunteered for sustenance.
“ISIS and Assad mean that it’s no longer safe for me at home. When I arrived in Britain I was so thankful to have been offered safety. All I wanted was to be a good person and give back to the country which sheltered me – but I couldn’t for no better reason than because my paperwork was wrong and it took five months to fix it. I will always be grateful to Britain, but I will never understand a system which stops people like me from getting on my feet and contributing to society.”
In contrast, Nour, another Syrian refugee, who came to Britain through the Government’s Vulnerable People Resettlement Programme (VPRP), received correct paperwork in a timely fashion, had access to ESOL classes within weeks of arriving, and received assistance in finding steady accommodation. He is now studying Computer Science at Birmingham University and hopes to found a tech company.
“When I arrived in Britain, I wanted a hand up, not a hand out, to get back on my own two feet, continue my work and studies, and start supporting my family. I’m grateful to Britain for the support I received and I hope to have the opportunity to repay the country with my work. I want all refugees to have the same opportunity.”
The APPG has released the report after nine months’ evidence gathering, including oral evidence sessions in Parliament and visits to Nottingham and Bristol, and more than written 100 submissions from refugees, agencies, local authorities, housing associations and other groups.