Successful integration is the key to an effective asylum system
There are currently significant barriers to successful integration for asylum seekers. Local authorities need more tools and funding to welcome refugees and help them rebuild their lives.
Having been at the sharp end of asylum and migration issues for two decades in local government, I have a particular interest in making the asylum system more effective.
I recognise that meeting the needs of the Home Office, asylum seekers, and the taxpayers who fund the system is a difficult balancing act, which is why I am glad to be sponsoring today’s debate with Neil Coyle MP on the effectiveness of the dispersal system and exploring these important ideas further.
It is safer for asylum seekers and less burdensome to our public services if people arrive in the UK through routes designated as safe and legal by the government. In order to meet the scale of the global displacement need and deter people from making dangerous journeys into the UK, these routes must also be accessible for those fleeing persecution.
Refugees who come via family reunion or refugee resettlement will arrive in a family or community that is ready and able to welcome them, whereas those who arrive outside of the government’s recognised routes enter the dispersal system. They are sent to different parts of the country, often in places where accommodation is cheap and readily available, and given a subsistence allowance of £39.63 per week whilst awaiting a decision on their asylum claim.
There are currently significant barriers to successful integration
There are currently almost 65,000 asylum seekers awaiting an initial decision on their application, 72% of whom have waited for more than six months.
Although councils have volunteered to become new dispersal areas in order to help relieve pressure on the system, there is little likelihood of dispersed asylum seekers being placed anywhere where accommodation costs are above the bare minimum or there are local families awaiting housing. There is no extra funding available, and they are often overwhelmed by the costs associated with asylum seekers with complex needs, or by the statutory duties that apply if a family with children have an unsuccessful asylum claim but cannot be removed from the UK.
We have seen, however, that where local authorities were given the tools to operate the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme – with substantial funding and a multi-year commitment in response to the crisis in Syria – refugees have been welcomed up and down the country and supported to rebuild their lives and contribute to their communities. The government has taken steps in the right direction by increasing funding to councils to support care leaving children, and more can be done to ensure local authorities are able to operate effectively.
Given that the majority of asylum seekers stay in the UK, either because they receive a successful decision on their claim (as more than half do), or because deporting them is costly and logistically difficult, we need an asylum system that reflects this reality and allows people to integrate effectively.
The government has rightly recognised the importance of integration as being in the interests of those who arrive in this country seeking to rebuild their lives – allowing them to become tax-paying, economically active members of society – and in the interests of the existing population, whose communities will benefit from their skills and active participation.
However, because asylum seekers cannot work whilst they wait for a decision on their claim, and if successful are given just 28 days to move into new accommodation and find work or apply for Universal Credit, there are currently significant barriers to successful integration.
David Simmonds is the Conservative MP for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner and chair of the APPG on Migration.