Margaret ,Lynne, Philip, Lawrence and Ailsa met with Maggie at the Senedd on 24th January to listen to some powerful testimony and stories along with many people seeking sanctuary and members of the Welsh Refugee Coalition. We briefly met our AM Kirsty who took a short break from her busy schedule to call in. We were privileged to hear Llanishen High school talking about why they want to become a School of Sanctuary and how they try to be welcoming and inclusive. They look forward to joining us in Tregoyd in the summer.
Lubna spoke about the difference that a small grant made in allowing Ali to access transport which has allowed him to attend college. We also heard about how Welsh universities are offering bursaries and One just said ‘contact us and we’ll see what we can do’. An interesting project is running at Cardiff Met involving Adult ESOL learners with students in a social enterprise project. One example was at Lynx house where there is always a need for information and advice and the students are now doing a monthly street food session and offering advice and friendship.
We heard from two people who had been destitute about the physical and mental stress this had caused. Godwin said it was like he’d escaped from a snake in his own country and was now in the lion’s den in this one. Prudence said many time people argued about who should be responsible for her. She said she just wanted the wherewithal to be responsible for herself and her baby.
The main theme of this meeting was Dignity not Destitution. Destitution means being without accommodation and being unable to afford to buy the essentials to be able to stay warm and dry and keep clean.
Destitution amongst people seeking asylum and those with refugee status is sadly not rare. At any time in Wales there may be between 500 and a 1000 people affected. After fleeing war, torture and/or persecution in their countries of origin, many face ongoing hardships in Wales with a high risk of falling into poverty or homelessness.
Welfare payments for people seeking asylum are provided through separate system from mainstream benefits and are set at a much lower rate, currently £36.95 People refused asylum may be eligible for £35.39 per person per week on a card . Accessing either of these even when clearly eligible can be difficult and complex and people are frequently left without support.
There is frequently a period of time of no money or accomodation after people are granted refugee status when their access to asylum payments are stopped and yet they have still not overcome the hurdles necessary to access mainstream benefits or because they were issued with a ‘no recourse to public funds’ NRPF condition which can take months to appeal and remove.
Refugee and asylum policy is not a devolved area of administration. Reforms that would make a great impact on the level of destitution in Wales can only be made at a UK level. However there are things that the Welsh government can do in devolved policy areas to improve conditions and support for people seeking sanctuary
1 improved support for services tackling destitution
The Welsh government has committed to consider measures specifically designed to tackle destitution. It is vital they fund the refugee move on service in Wales.
It is suggested they look at
A increasing housing and hosting provision for refused asylum seekers
B collect data to understand needs and make efficient use of voluntary and public sector resources
C Support Local Authority Social Service departments and homelessness services so they can respond rapidly to referrals, assess vulnerability risk and offer support in a timely manner [Housing[Wales] Act 2014 and Social serveces and Well being Act 2014 requirements ] Consider
D introduce a crisis fund that would provide small payments to people seeking asylum/refuge who find themselves destitute [this system is in place in Northern Ireland] E targeted investment to build on existing services to ensure there is sufficient capacity.
2 implement the recommendations of the Assembly’s report on refugees and asylum seekers
In April 2017 the National Assembly’s Quality, Local Government and Communities committee published its report on refugees and asylum seekers in Wales after taking evidence from people seeking asylum, people seeking refugee and their supporters and public sector organisations.
The Welsh government accepted 18 of the 19 recommendations and agreed the development of a revised Welsh government delivery plan for asylum seekers and refugees, a review of the English language provision and to support better coordination between agencies helping these people. Some progress has been made and we await a new delivery plan that particularly addresses the needs of people who are destitute
It is critical the impact of the immigration act 2016 is assessed upon homelessness in Wales. These findings can be presented to the Home Office with a request for funding to cover any additional costs in Wales as a result of the legislation
3 advocate for change to the UK asylum system
It would help if the Welsh government highlighted the challenges being faced and effective reforms that would improve things for people seeking asylum and those with refugee status. UK policy changes that would have major benefits include
Introduce a time frame for decisions on section 4 support, apply existing policy and guidance consistently and continue support until decisions on appeals are made
Make legal aid available for asylum support appeals
Grant permission to work to any person seeking asylum that has been waiting for longer than six months [ the Home Office’s standard target for asylum decisions] Extend the ‘move on’ period for new refugees to 50 days from 28. This is a more realistic Time for someone to access accommodation and financial support
Increase asylum support to at least 70% of jobseekers allowance
Ask The Home Office to consider the risk of destitution when applying conditions such as NRPF to refugee status
Write up in Western Mail https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/doctor-who-fled-warzone-ready-14199192