Minister for Refugees: Wilsons supports the call to protect UK refugees’ rights
Date posted: 11 May 2017
Larry Lock a caseworker in our immigration department explains why we need a Minister for Refugees in the UK.
In July 2016, eight weeks after the EU referendum, Theresa May quietly scrapped the role of ‘Minister for Refugees’ that was brought in by David Cameron in September 2015. A position only ever occupied by Richard Harrington MP, the role was responsible “for coordinating and delivering work across government to resettle Syrian refugees in the UK”.
Working mainly with the Home Office and reporting to the Home Secretary, Harrington’s role was to coordinate the ‘Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme’ working with the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for International Development to house and support the 20,000 Syrian refugees the UK had promised to take from 2015-2020.
When it was first introduced, the post had huge potential to provide much needed support to refugees in the UK, and to shift the nature of the immigration debate by distinguishing between migrants (those under immigration control) and refugees (under the international Refugee Convention) in the public eye. Before it was scrapped, the post had already helped coordinate the resettlement of almost 2,000 refugees in the first six months of 2016.
To be granted refugee status in the UK is to be entitled to many of the same rights as British Citizens. Refugees in the UK are able to access social housing and public funds, and are free to take employment.
However due to the poor organisation of these services, a grant of refugee status can leave many unable to enjoy these rights because there are few provisions available for them to be accessed easily. The British Red Cross recently reported that it provided destitution support to almost 15,000 destitute asylum seekers and refugees in 2016, which is a 10% increase from 2015. How does someone new to the UK, its language and its structures, gain employment or social support – something that is even tough for many British graduates today?
There must have been a reason for David Cameron’s government to believe a minister in charge of orchestrating governmental assistance to refugees in the UK would be important. But it’s unclear why Theresa May does not share the same view. With grants of refugee status in the UK rising from 10,348 in March 2015 to 10,549 in March 2016, the issue doesn’t look like it is going away.
Two weeks ago the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees released its report “Refugees Welcome?” in which it outlined failures of UK governmental policy to protect the rights of refugees in the UK. The report points to “administrative flaws” that are “easily fixed”, such as the 28-day cut-off period of asylum support for those who are granted refugee status, that leaves many homeless and destitute.
A number of recommendations are made in the report – one of which being the reintroduction of a Minister for Refugees. This role would be one with a far greater remit than the Cameron government had previously envisaged. This would be a minister to oversee a “National Refugee Integration Strategy” that would hopefully overhaul a poorly organised system of support for refugees and help with access to social support, healthcare and education.
Of the success of Harrington’s previous role, the report said that it: “shows the value of a single minister with overall responsibility for an area of policy that cuts across various government departments.”
The current government has not been focused on providing refugees with the support and assistance they are entitled to. Instead it seems more concerned with how quickly it is able to get rid of them from the UK – as seems to be the case with the introduction of “safe return” reviews that will be conducted at the end of the five-year grant of refugee status.
It is unlikely that asylum seekers driven from their homes will stop making the journey to the UK anytime soon, and so there will continue to be many deserving of refugee status trying to build lives here. How they are treated when they are here is an important question for the government to now answer with the blank policy slate that Brexit provides. For there to be meaningful integration and harmonious communities, governmental organisation and coordination of departments will be crucial to safeguard the rights and opportunities of everyone here who is entitled to them.
Specialist legal advice
At Wilsons we have been helping refugees for more than twenty five years. If you are a refugee and would like to discuss your concerns in a confidential environment with one of our qualified solicitors or caseworkers, please contact Dionne on 020 8885 7979 and she can arrange an appointment. Alternatively email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be in touch.