Thank you for contacting me about asylum seekers.
A Home Office Fact Sheet 'Coronavirus: Asylum Accommodation, Applications and Interviews' can be accessed here.
The UK continues to be one of the world’s leading refugee resettlement states. As a country, between 2016 and 2019 we resettle more refugees than any other in Europe and 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. From 1 January, these very effective and fair family reunion rules will also apply to relevant family members of UK refugees where the family member in an EU state, replacing the EU’s Dublin rules. Unless an alternative agreement can be reached with the EU in the meantime.
Claims that Asylum Seekers are Held in 'Inhumane Conditions': As you may be aware, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons published a report into short term holding facilities. I entirely agree with you that all those arriving at these facilities should be treated with respect and kindness by staff. It is therefore welcome that that this recent report found that this was the case.
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 are fulfilling the statutory duties to ensure decent, safe and humane conditions.
The Government has made a number of improvements to facilities. At Tug Haven for example, improvements include military grade tents with heating and air conditioning units, hardstanding flooring, a large heated portacabin for families, unaccompanied children and vulnerable adults and additional handwashing stations and toilet facilities across the whole site. It is important to consider that Tug Haven is an area where the Home Office triage arrivals to identify medical needs, vulnerabilities and any known criminality before they can be moved to suitable locations as quickly as possible.
I am encouraged by this work but will push the Government to continue to act fast to make this route unviable and end the cruel and dangerous people smuggling between France and the UK.
Arrangements during the transition period: It is important to note that the UK will continue 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 that have been submitted.
In the event of a non-negotiated outcome with the EU: The Government has been clear that a negotiated reciprocal arrangement between the EU and the UK for the family reunion of unaccompanied children seeking asylum is the preferred approach. However, due to the importance of the issue it is responsible for Ministers to have a plan if this preferred approach is not possible. Therefore, I welcome the fact that in the event of a non-negotiated outcome, the Government will seek to pursue new bilateral negotiations on post-transition migration issues with key countries. This will include new arrangements for the family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
Review of safe and legal routes: You may be pleased to hear that 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.
Community Sponsorship Scheme: I welcome the fact 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.
Restarting Refugee Resettlement: I understand your concerns and have always agreed 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.
It is therefore good news that resettlement arrivals will restart to fulfil the UK’s commitment of resettling 20,000 refugees affected by the Syrian conflict under the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS). I understand that most refugees will start to arrive early in the new year. 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.
'The Dubs amendment': As you mention, in 2016 Parliament agreed to relocate 480 unaccompanied children from Europe to the UK. In May this year, 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 Seekers and Employment: 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.
I understand that the Government is considering recent calls to change the current policy and is reviewing the evidence available.
Campaign groups, including Lift the Ban, make interesting points about the economic benefits of changing the policy and I am assured Ministers will take this into consideration when reviewing the policy.
Asylum Support: 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.
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.
Asylum Seekers in Greece: the UK has a strong bilateral relationship with Greece and continues to offer support and exchange expertise to alleviate the intense pressures on the Greek islands.
The UK is working closely with the Greek Government, who retain ultimate responsibility for the situation of migrants in their country. I know Ministers remain committed to supporting Greece's efforts in dealing with the migration challenge including through a United Kingdom Border Force search-and-rescue cutter in the Aegean; and over £510,000 to support the humanitarian needs of migrants on the islands. I welcome that the UK and Greece signed an action plan on migration on 22 April which reaffirms the UK's commitment to continued cooperation to tackle the challenges posed by irregular migration.
Following the devastating fire at the Moira Camp. I understand that around 400 unaccompanied children and teenagers were flown to Thessaloniki in Northern Greece and the Greek Government sent ships to help house migrants impacted by the fire. The UK has also sent an aid package of plates, cutlery and solar lamps to Moria camp, which will mean nearly 2,000 vulnerable families can prepare, cook and serve food, as well as being kept safe with solar lanterns. The 2,000 lanterns can be used to charge torches and mobiles phones. The UK is standing by Greece and working together to support those in dire need.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP