Could we finally see a shake up of the stale negative debate that dominates asylum discussion in papers and parliament? On Friday, Fiona Hyslop, the Scottish Minister for Education set out her stall on asylum issues with a progressive and thought provoking asylum seeker agenda for Scotland.
Ms Hyslop wants to start looking at alternatives to detention centres, to allow asylum seeking adults to work while their claims are being processed, and for ‘legacy case’ families to be able to stay in Scotland indefinitely.
This comes as a breath of fresh air after the relentless ‘tough’ rhetoric we hear from the UK government on asylum and immigration. In fact, Britain’s asylum system is already strictly controlled and extremely complicated. It’s that poor countries look after most of the world’s refugees – 70% of refugees live in Africa and Asia and the UK is home to just 3%.
The Scottish Executive’s hands are tied when it comes to immigration and asylum policy – Westminster retains control over immigration for the whole UK. But hopefully the Executive will refresh the debate in the UK and will encourage UK Ministers to rethink their policies and motives.
In the meantime, Ms Hyslop has found some significant areas where the Executive can help those seeking asylum in Scotland. They will fund university places for asylum seekers who have been at school in Scotland for more than 3 years, and plan to find nursery places for pre-school children of asylum seekers.
The Scottish Refugee Council has warmly welcomed Fiona Hyslop’s announcements and I couldn’t agree more. Hopefully this will open up the asylum policy debate, for too long dominated by scare stories and negative media caricatures. On behalf of the thousands of people needing asylum in the UK, thank you Fiona!