By Louisa, Parliamentary and Campaigns team
As an intern with the Parliamentary and Campaigns team, I’ve been busy these last few weeks in the lead-up to this autumn’s political party conferences, where the Refugee Council, alongside UNHCR, Still Human Still Here, and six refugee community leaders will be meeting up with MPs and party leaders to discuss asylum policy. Given that they will be the first conferences since the general election, it’s going to be interesting to see how policies are being shaped, and how the leaders will listen to our concerns.
With this just ahead of us, and the new government just over 100 days old, it seems a good moment to think back to the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition agreements and reflect on the achievements of our new government. Not forgetting the all important “still to-do” list of course!
1. Pledge to end the deportation of gay asylum seekers—done! It was a massive step forward in July when the case of two gay asylum seekers who faced persecution if returned to Cameroon was brought to national attention. The Supreme Court overturned a previous decision to deport them, leading Theresa May to make good on one of the government’s pledge stating that the judgement gave a legal basis for a change in the assessment of asylum claims based on sexuality.
2. Pledge to end child detention—ongoing. The government’s review into child detention is underway and Nick Clegg announced recently that the family unit at Yarl’s Wood removal centre would be closed. Yet while the shameful practice of detaining children is put to an end on one hand, the government simultaneously announced in August that the UK had become home to Europe’s largest detention centre, at Harmondsworth—a dubious honour.
3. Pledge to make quicker decisions on asylum claims—ongoing. While we’re pleased the government has launched a project to improve the asylum system—to make it both quicker and better, they say—our clients, many who have fled persecution in their home countries, continue to face detention, discrimination and destitution in this one.
The suicide of destitute Osman Rasul in July was a tragic reminder that legal aid slashes will place a massive strain on desperate asylum seekers. And Osman’s story, like so many others, showed the common sense of our campaign to allow asylum seekers to work. This was backed up by the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on allowing asylum seekers who have waited for over twelve months for a decision to work, but swiftly limited by the government who produced a restricted list of jobs they can apply for—including, as you will remember, sheep shearing of all things!
So the last 100 days have marked the beginning of an unexpected and perhaps awkward marriage in British politics. But the new government is young, and the initial steps taken have been encouraging in many ways. Here’s hoping they make some more positive steps to deliver on their pledges in the next 100 days. We’ll be watching!