Thank you for contacting me about asylum seekers and refugee resettlement. I have added a statement about Napier and Pengally Barracks below.
The UK continues to be one of the world’s leading refugee resettlement states. As a country, between 2016 and 2019 we resettled more refugees than any other in Europe and we are in the top five countries worldwide. Since 2015, the Government has resettled more than 25,000 vulnerable refugees in need of protection through our refugee resettlement schemes, with around half being children. These refugees are resettled directly from conflict zones (such as Syria) rather than from safe European countries such as Italy or France as the previous s67 Dubs amendment did. I believe that it is most important to prioritise those refugees in dangerous situations, not those already in Europe.
I welcome the fact that the Government already provides safe and legal routes for people needing protection or seeking to reunite with their families. In the year ending June 2020, over 6,320 refugee family reunion visas were issued to partners and children of those previously granted asylum or humanitarian protection in the UK. Over 29,000 family reunion visas have been issued in the last 5 years.
While the Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and the UK does not include provisions on asylum, returns, family reunion for unaccompanied minors, or illegal migration, both the UK and EU note the importance of good management of migratory flows, and recognise the geographical and logistical circumstances, including the ferry services and the Common Travel Area. Therefore I welcome that the UK and EU released a joint political declaration which made clear the UK's intention to engage in bilateral discussions with the most concerned Member States to discuss suitable practical arrangements on asylum, family reunion for unaccompanied minors or illegal migration.
The Government has announced it will also conduct a review of safe and legal routes to the UK for asylum seekers, refugees and their families. I am aware that many feel a statutory commitment is necessary. I do therefore welcome the fact that the Government has made a statutory commitment to review safe and legal routes, including for family reunion of unaccompanied asylum seeking children. The Government will also publicly consult on legal routes including on family reunion for unaccompanied asylum seeking children. In addition, Ministers will make a statement providing further detail of the review and consultation relating to legal routes before Parliament within three months of the Immigration Bill achieving Royal Assent. Ministers will also prepare a report on the outcome of the review, publish that report and present it before Parliament.
It is also important to note that the UK continued to reunite unaccompanied children with family members in the UK under the Dublin Regulation during the transition period, processing and deciding all ‘take back’ requests submitted.
The Home Office maintains regular dialogue with those involved in resettlement, including local authorities, Strategic Migration Partnerships and support providers. You may be pleased to hear that the UK’s resettlement schemes have been supported by over 300 local authorities. It is also the case that the Community Sponsorship Scheme allows community groups, charities and faith groups to support refugees directly. I will continue to push the Government to ensure Ministers work with all those involved in refugee resettlement across the country.
The Government believes that, when it is safe to do so, the UK should recommence refugee resettlement. I welcome the fact that the Home Office has been working closely with international and domestic stakeholders on plans to safely resume UK resettlement arrivals.
As a result of this work, the UK has restarted UK resettlement arrivals to fulfil our commitment of resettling 20,000 refugees affected by the conflict in Syria under the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS). Decisions on resettlement beyond this scheme have not been made and will of course need to take into account the impact of Coronavirus. However, I follow this very closely.
On the Dubs amendment, in 2016 Parliament agreed to relocate 480 unaccompanied children from Europe to the UK. In May 2020, the Government announced that 478 children from Greece, Italy and France had been transferred to the UK under the scheme. The final two transfers were suspended due to the travel restrictions in place due to the Coronavirus pandemic. You may be pleased to hear that the UK has now completed the final two transfers and therefore completed the commitment you have referred to. However, in the future the Government intends to prioritise refugees in dangerous conflict zones for resettlement to the UK, and not those who are already in safe European countries as the s67 “Dubs amendment” did. I am sure that you will agree that this is the right priority.
Asylum Seeker Support and Employment
I recognise that this is a very important issue; the UK has a proud tradition of providing a place of safety for refugees. Each claim for asylum is carefully considered and where it is found that individuals are in need of protection, asylum is given, with the ultimate aim of helping them to return home if it is safe to do so.
Asylum seekers are allowed to work, in jobs on the Shortage Occupation List, if their claim has not been decided after 12 months through no fault of their own. The current policy aims to strike a balance between being equitable towards asylum seekers, while considering the rights and needs of our society as a whole, prioritising jobs for British citizens and those with leave to remain here, including refugees. The Government is considering recent calls to change the current policy and is reviewing the evidence available.
I should also mention that any asylum seeker who would otherwise be destitute is provided with free accommodation, utility bills and council tax paid and a weekly cash allowance with extra money available for mothers and young children.
The cash allowance has been raised from £37.75 to £39.63, representing a rise of 5 per cent from June. It is important to consider that this is significantly higher than general inflation which data showed was 0.8 per cent in the 12 months to April 2020. Indeed, food inflation over the same period was 1.4 per cent.
I know you have concerns over this allowance figure. The methodology used for the cash allowance has been recognised by the Courts as rational and lawful. You may be interested in reading about how this works here - https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/report-on-review-of-cash-all…. It is also important to factor in that NHS healthcare and education for children is provided free of charge.
I will continue to monitor closely the support available to asylum seekers to ensure sufficient support is provided.
Napier and Pengally Barracks
I was appalled by the damage and destruction at Napier barracks. I fully support the police who took action against those who vandalised property, threatened staff and put lives at risk. I will continue to monitor this situation very carefully.
I understand you have concerns regarding the conditions of these facilities. I know that the Government takes the welfare of people in Home Office care extremely seriously and is fulfilling statutory duties to ensure decent, safe and humane conditions.
As you will be aware, the Home Office is required by law to provide asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute with accommodation, paid for by the taxpayer.
The number of people within the asylum system has risen. This is due to the fact that the Government temporarily ceased ending asylum support for those whose claims have been granted or refused. This was necessary to help stop the spread of coronavirus and ensure they are able to follow social distancing guidelines.
It has therefore been necessary for the Government to act quickly to source contingency accommodation to create additional capacity and ensure obligations are met in full.
As you may be aware, the Government provides safe, warm and secure accommodation with three nutritious meals served a day, all paid for by the taxpayer. I also understand that Napier has previously accommodated army personnel. The Home Office has worked extremely closely with Public Health England to minimise risks of coronavirus and this track record will be robustly defended in court. The initial hearing you refer to is one step in the legal process. It is important to consider that the Home Office has not lost or conceded the case. I will continue to follow developments very carefully.
I have been reassured that those accommodated at these sites have access to appropriate medical care and have access to the 24/7 Migrant Help helpline to raise any issues.
I will continue to monitor the situation very closely. However, I welcome the action taken by the Government to ensure the UK continues to meet its obligations and commitments to the most vulnerable people. This is of course in the context of unprecedented domestic challenges caused by the Coronavirus pandemic.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP