New refugees in London, who have been granted asylum after fleeing war and persecution, often find themselves plunged into homelessness right after receiving refugee status. In February we launched a campaign calling on the London Mayoral candidates to do more to end refugee homelessness in the city. Below, our Parliamentary Manager Seb Klier outlines our next steps in the campaign.
In last week’s election, Sadiq Khan was re-elected as the Mayor of London, with his term lasting until 2024. From our experience of working with refugees in the capital for many decades, we know that London has been a welcome home for many thousands of people who have been displaced and have had their lives upturned. However, we also know that without the right support, too many will struggle to build futures for themselves in the city.
Although the London Mayor does not have all the powers needed to reform and improve refugee and asylum policy, there are still a number of issues on which he can take action immediately. Where he does not have the formal powers, he can still lend his voice to the growing calls for better treatment of refugees.
Refugee homelessness and integration
Throughout the election campaign, Refugee Council supporters called on Mayoral candidates to implement a tenancy deposit scheme, to directly support new refugees seeking to find a home in London’s expensive and unregulated private rented sector.
A newly-recognised refugee is given just 28 days to find a new home before they are evicted from their asylum accommodation. This is an extremely short period of time for anyone looking for housing, but the process is made almost impossible for refugees because they have not been able to work, and so have been unable to save for a deposit.
At the same time, their application for welfare benefits, the proof of which is needed to sign a tenancy, requires a five-week wait, meaning they cannot access it before they are evicted. London’s high rents, and huge demand for housing, only intensify these difficulties.
Unsurprisingly, many refugees become homeless in these circumstances. As a result of pressure from Refugee Council supporters, we saw candidates commit to work on this issue, and we now have an opportunity to follow-up with the new Mayor, to ensure new refuges are supported.
Our campaign was focused on one element of refugee integration in London, but there are many other policies the Mayor of London can take forward. Below are some other issues we will be working on.
English Lessons and Vocational Training
Mayoral control of London’s Adult Education Budget presents an unparalleled opportunity to ensure all refugees in London get access to English lessons (ESOL) when they need it. The GLA has already implemented improvements to ESOL provision for refugees and people seeking asylum in the city, and the Mayor can now build on that.
Employment opportunities for refugees
New refugees often struggle to find employment because of a language barrier, a lack of relevant UK qualifications or work experience, and a lack of familiarity with the labour market. More action is needed to mitigate the underemployment amongst refugees; in the first instance, the Mayor should undertake new research to find out the current scale of the problem.
The Mayor can also support refugees’ skills development by establishing work placement and internship schemes within London civil functions such as City Hall and TfL, and by providing guidance to other businesses about supporting refugee employment.
Refugee Community Organisations
Finally, a vital part of ensuring Mayoral policy supports refugees is to meaningfully engage with refuges and people seeking asylum themselves. One way this should be done is via regular engagement with the newly-formed London Refugee Community Organisations’ Advocacy Forum.
In addition, existing GLA forums such as the Migrant and Refugee Advisory Panel (MRAP) and the London Strategic Migration Partnership (LSMP) should continue to involve RCOs in their discussions on pertinent issues.
Thanks to the campaigning of Refugee Council supporters, refugee integration is being noticed at City Hall and by the Mayor of London. We will now take the opportunity to push for more comprehensive support for new refugees in London, as the Mayor brings forward his new budget in the coming year.