Happy new year everyone! And we have even more reason to celebrate in 2011. Not only is it the 60th anniversary of the UN Convention for Refugees, which has saved millions of lives since 1951, it is also the Refugee Council’s 60th birthday. As is tradition on one’s birthday, we have compiled a wish list of gifts, and are hoping the government will oblige…
We would like:
1. For the right decisions to be made on asylum cases FIRST TIME!
This one looks promising. The government’s welcome Asylum Improvement Project is looking at supporting asylum seekers throughout the process to ensure they can properly explain why they need protection here. But we would also like the culture of disbelief to radically change amongst UKBA staff making decisions on asylum cases. Only then can we be sure those in need of protection can get it, without having to face lengthy appeals, and without the threat of being sent back to countries where their lives are at risk.
2. For asylum seekers to have early access to legal advice
The government’s Early Legal Advice project is a great start, but is restricted to certain areas. With cuts to legal services there will not be enough suppliers to offer legal advice, and the government’s recent legal aid consultation has restricted legal aid for those seeking asylum support. It’s simple: asylum seekers must have high quality legal advice throughout the whole process to ensure so that they can get the right decision on their case and get the support they need.
3. An end to child detention for good.
Fingers crossed we actually get this in 2011! Nick Clegg announced before Christmas that no children would be detained in immigration removal centres after May. But why they can’t stop doing so today, we don’t know. Time will tell if the new process and accommodation units will be more humane or any less distressing for families than the current system.
4. The Azure card to be replaced with cash.
Our clients at the end of the asylum process are being forced into poverty and hunger due to problems using this payment card – just read the damning evidence in our report here. Is it too much to ask that the card is replaced with cash, so that people can buy enough food to feed themselves and their families? And in the meantime, why not make the card more flexible so that people can get value for money and buy food that meets their needs?
5. The right to work for asylum seekers.
The government wants the public to get back into work and off benefits – so why not apply this to asylum seekers who want to contribute and offer their skills too? We know times are tough, but it does not make economic sense to force people who are able and willing to work to rely on state handouts, or to be forced into destitution as a result.
6. Age disputed children to be given benefit of the doubt.
Too many age-disputed young people are locked up in detention centres and later found to be children. The government must treat these children like they would any British child – starting off by giving them the benefit of the doubt until they are properly and independently assessed.
7. Funding for the refugee sector to continue.
A difficult ask in light of cuts across the board, but the government must acknowledge the vital services the refugee sector provides to those seeking safety here. RCOs enable the integration of refugees into society, and refugees and asylum seekers rely on the services of the charity sector to get by. Any cuts will have a devastating effect, not only on their wellbeing, but on other services and the wider community.
8. For the 60th anniversary of the UN Convention for Refugees to remind people of the importance of protecting refugees today and beyond
The convention has enabled millions fleeing conflict and persecution across the world since 1951 to find a place of safety. So why is it that the public tend to feel greater sympathy for those fleeing Nazi Germany in the 40s, than those fleeing modern-day conflict in Zimbabwe, Iran, Eritrea and Afghanistan? We hope that our celebrations this year will remind the public, politicians, and certain sections of the press that those seeking safety in the UK today have as much right to do so as those fleeing horrors of war 60 years ago.
We have many more, but we wouldn’t want to appear greedy. So come on Home Office – will you give us a happy birthday?!