Perspective on Right to Work for asylum seekers

Anna Scrivener from Nottingham Refugee Forum writes in a personal capacity :

‘Beyond the right to work’

For all of us immersed in refugee issues it sadly comes as no surprise that they are amongst the most underemployed groups in the UK, finding it hard to transfer their skills into a new environment. However, there is a lot of research to demonstrate that employment is one of the best ways to empower people and help them integrate into their new home, reducing isolation, supporting language development and improving mental wellbeing. 18-months ago I took on the challenge to develop a brand new Employability Programme for this group.

The policy motion passed at Autumn Conference aims to tackle the ‘right to work’ injustice and I strongly support that. Some of the clients we work with at Nottingham & Nottinghamshire Refugee Forum (NNRF) have been in the asylum system for many years before getting this right. One particular lady I worked with received status only after 10-years. This creates many additional barriers to their ability to gain employment later down the track, and can lead to an erosion of skills and confidence. However, I don’t think it is the end of the battle, I want to call on my fellow Lib Dems to DEMAND BETTER.

A large proportion of the clients we work with are from the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS) and so the right to work is granted when they arrive. I see proud, hardworking men arrive to the UK with their families full of hope and I watch them turn into shadows of themselves, falling into the benefit trap and giving up on any real future for themselves as individuals. I have heard people justify this by saying it’s a pattern seen in other migrant communities, the hopes of the parents passed on to the children. But as a Liberal I don’t think we should be giving up on people, and as a Careers Advisor this waste of talent is unacceptable.

So why are so many failing even when they have status? There are many barriers to employment: language, cultural differences, lack of UK education/experience, trauma and depression. But for me there is also something more fundamental to this problem that isn’t solved by simply granting the right to work, this is the issue of identity. How much can they adapt into their new environment without losing their sense of self? Beyond the trauma they have experienced on their journey to the UK, this internal battle creates a new wave of trauma and in my opinion can have a significant long-term impact on mental wellbeing. For many their identity is rooted in their home countries and previous professions, they never envisaged leaving that. Now they are here and forced to reinvent themselves and it can mean letting go of the things that make up who they are. Particularly for older clients, where this is more established, this can be an overwhelming obstacle. So writing a client a CV or practicing interview questions is not enough, we have to help our clients overcome much deeper personal conflicts.

Policy needs to recognise the journey these people are on and that there are no quick wins. Employability Projects like mine, that are tailored to this group, need to be available to support that transition across the country if we want to enable refugees to become contributing members of our society. Mainstream National Careers Services are being consistently squeezed and have all but disappeared for adults. They cannot deal with the complex needs and starting points of our clients with an off the shelf solution anyway. This taps into issues close to the hearts of all Lib Dems: equality of opportunity, fair society and prevention of poverty.

The NNRF Employability Programme combines careers education with 1:1 individualised guidance. We have also worked with external partners on a number of initiatives including a mentor programme with Nottingham Trent University and Mechanics and Construction accredited training, delivered with interpreters, through a local independent school, FUEL. We have found it hard to reach out to women within the community so this year we held the first ‘Inspiring Women Conference’ which was a real celebration of women’s achievements, raising awareness of opportunity. These have been extremely successful projects and we continue to develop our provision based on emerging needs. However, the only reason my team exists is because of the funding attached to the VPRS which limits our reach to the wider Nottingham Refugee Community.

My call to action to fellow Lib Dems lobbying on these issues is that we can’t stop at the right to work, we also need to insist that the structures are in place for people to make the most of that right. That we give people the information they need to have agency in their new lives and to plan for their dreams. In this way they will become integrated and contributing members of our society more quickly. At the moment refugees face a system stacked against them with little or no support, unless they find a local MP willing to fight their case. We need equality of opportunity and a system that levels the playing field. After all refugees are an untapped seem of talent that we might just need more than ever after Brexit.

If you are interested in finding out more about the work of NNRF please visit our website: www.nottsrefugeeforum.org.uk or email: anna.scrivener@nottsrefugeeforum.org.uk LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/a-scrivener

Anna Scrivener – Employability Team Leader – Nottingham Refugee Forum

*Disclaimer: These are my personal views, made from observations over the course of my work and are not related to the political position of the organisation NNRF.*

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Liberal Democrat policy on Right to Work is here Right to Work for Asylum Seekers

REFUGEE FAMILY REUNIFICATION

One of the many fringe meetings held at Lib Dem Conference was on Refugee Family Reunification, organised by Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary, with refreshments kindly provided by Liberal Democrat Voice.

This is a write up of the meeting,

‘How should the UK change its refugee family reunification policies’: LD4SOS at Brighton Fringe meeting

There were plenty there to hear our panel of speakers and enjoy the refreshments provided courtesy of Lid Dem Voice despite us clashing with a big consultation on the supporters scheme.

Tim Farron MP started off with a review of the overall position and welcomed the approval earlier in the day of policy motion F16 with all 5 amendments, most notably amendment #1 (LD4SOS). He reminded us that in debates we are not just talking about policies but real people who are affected. He talked about the experience of visiting Calais, where it was clear that what people were looking for was safety, not a nice life on benefits.

Then there were people entering Europe. When he was helping on a Greek Island   as a boat full to overflowing of refugees landed, one woman told him “Stop handing out bottles of water and accept some ****** refugees.” Hearing stories from a family with good job and business back in Syria he asked himself “What makes such a family flee and put their much loved children at risk?”.

The refugees then hit a wall. In Thessaloniki they could get no further.

Baroness Sally Hamwee has piloted the Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill through the Lords, and Tim hopes to see it through the Commons; it may be that a similar Bill, proposed by Angus MacNeil, which passed second reading in the Commons on 16th March, will ultimately prevail: it is the end result for those affected that matters most.

In Cologne he found quite a different from pictures painted from what was portrayed in the media recently, and he wished that our country could be the same in accepting refugees – they were contributing to society in different ways, and it is us that are missing out here.

Tim further spoke of the broad breadth of experience people brought to the UK (in contrast to the shame of UK expats in southern Spain not integrating!) and how much more they could do if given the right to work and were able to learn the English language.

Jon Featonby from the British Red Cross told us how they help people through the process of applying for asylum, and then when they are successful, they want to know how to unite with others in their family.

Because of the set rules that we have, there are very difficult decisions to make when a family leaves a war-torn area. What to do with siblings, under and over 18 years old? Leave them at home or bring them with them ?

Jon noted that, whilst 6 months ago that day, there was a victory in Parliament, families are still apart. Amnesty, Oxfam and Refugee Council all have petitions and campaign details on their websites. Amnestyare working on a giant photo album to show to the Home Office about the impact of Family reunification.

He argued that the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme has been huge success so far, but it should not be cut off in 2020, but extended and more countries be included (as in the F16 Policy paper).

Finally, Jon noted that, the current rules that restrict state assistance in housing and welfare to 28 days post-recognition, is a huge issue for those given leave to remain. He similarly lamented the fact that refugees are only granted temporary rather than indefinite leave to remain.

Dr Ruvi Ziegler (Associate Professor in International Refugee Law at the University of Reading) discussed the UK’s policies on family reunion in European and international perspectives. He emphasised that the absence of safe and legal routes to asylum in Europe inevitably leads individuals to seek refuge and subsequently wish to reunite with their family and noted that the number of persons resettled globally is dismal – less than 1% of the total refugee population.

He suggested the European human rights law, especially the right to family life, as well as the principle of the ‘Best interests of the Child’ in the Convention on the rights of the Child could help bring about policy change in the UK.

He argued that, a liberal (and Liberal) policy for integration and family reunion is desirable, including extending political rights to refugees. In respect of the European refugee ‘crisis’, Ruvi noted that the fault lies in large part with the “Dublin” system, under which the ‘burden’ is borne by economically weaker states in Southern Europe, and that part of the solution for the EU lies in extending intra-EU freedom of movement to refugees and other beneficiaries of protection.

The meeting ended with a Q and A session – never enough time for a good discussion, sadly, and thanks for the food, LDV!

(note, the new policies in the Policy Paper 131 and LD4SOS amendment #1 as adopted as part of F16 mean that we do now have policies on Family Reunion, restoration of Legal Aid, the Right to Work, Learning English, extension of the SVRPS scheme, and having 60 days grace to move out of accommodation when granted leave to remain.)

and this article was published here, where you can join in the discussion.

‘How should the UK change its refugee family reunification policies’: LD4SOS at Brighton Fringe meeting

Making our policy on Asylum and Refugees excellent.

After explaining our position on the policy motion on Migration and Asylum, LD4SOS Council member Suzanne Fletcher moved an amendment to the policy motion we had worked hard on, submitted on our behalf by local parties in Stockton; Wigan, Leigh & Makerfield; and Bromsgrove.

You can see the whole debate here https://youtu.be/tgScArR958M?t=6768 and Suzanne speaking here https://youtu.be/tgScArR958M?t=7455

She spoke of our deep ANGER about how government treats ALL migrants, and the terrible and inhumane way that those asylum seekers who seek sanctuary in the UK are treated. Suzanne then went on to explain some of the main points of our amendment, some of which were an expansion of what was already in the policy paper, and some additions.

Our amendments include:

Workable solutions to real social, infrastructure and financial problems and place blame on government indifference and underfunding, NOT those who are here from elsewhere for whatever reason.

We shouldn’t be using teachers, health professionals, landlords and banks in civil society as border guards.

Detention for immigration purposes is bad enough for many reasons, not least that it is indefinite and we welcome the paper affirming our policy having a time limit of 28 days as a maximum. but our amendments go further and make it explicit that detention is NOT AS IT IS NOW, FIRST RESORT, BUT absolutely a last resort, no vulnerable people should be detained at all. Pregnant women, those with mental health problems, those who have been subject to torture should NEVER be detained for immigration purposes, and nobody AT ALL for more than 72hours without judicial oversight. There must be community alternatives to detention with casework. This is about stopping lives being wasted, not just wasting money better spent.

We are reaffirming our unqualified commitment to principle of no reformer which prohibits the UK from sending anyone to any place where their life or freedom would be at risk

Culture of disbelief must END. There are Christians, people of other faiths, people of no faith, fleeing for their life. There are those who have converted to Christianity since coming here. There are LGBT + people. ALL these are so often not believed and have impossible levels of proof to give.

We need to Review and arbitrate decisions before reaching appeal.

Over 40% of appeals taken are won, what does that say about bad decision making. Costs of appeals should go from ministry of justice to a new dedicated unit for asylum applicants to make incentives for decisions to be right first time.

Family reunion bill must go through, and HUGELY IMPORTANTLY, the restoration of legal aid to what it was before 2012.

We demand Safe and legal routes for at least 10,000 each year in expansion of the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme to not just from Syria but other conflict zones such as Myanmar. Next time you see something on T V about horrors elsewhere and think “what can I do”. You can start by voting for this.

We demand deeds not words from government on existing schemes for welcoming refugee children, and an expansion of it too.

Victims of trafficking need more than warm words, their exploitation leaves them feeling very insecure and they need to be supported so they can give evidence against. It is so important that they are not returned to country of origin where they can be trafficked again.

AS LIBERALS WE MUST LEAD THE WAY TO HAVE A WELCOMING SOCIETY THAT WE TREAT PEOPLE WITH COMPASSION AND HUMANITY, AND GIVES THEM JUSTICE AND DIGNITY.

MOST OF ALL WE MUST VOTE TODAY TO GIVE THEM HOPE.

FOR ALL SUFFERING FROM ISSUES I HAVE MENTIONED,NOW , AND NOT NEXT YEAR. VOTE FOR OUR AMENDMENT AND THEN THE MOTION.”

There were a series of interventions in the debate, and you can hear Janet King and Jacqui Bell here https://youtu.be/tgScArR958M?t=10004

We were extremely pleased that we didn’t see anyone at all voting against our amendment, and that along with other good amendments the whole of the policy motion was agreed. You can see it here Prosperity and Dignity in Migration final form in word, and the original policy paper is here (https://www.libdems.org.uk/autumn-18-policy-paper-131 ).

Now the hard work begins of campaigning on all of these, and more, of the issues, and persuading the other parties to back us​

LD4SOS amendments passed by Party Conference – now to campaign for them!

We are very pleased that Liberal Democrats’ Party Conference has adopted a modern, compassionate and progressive asylum policy through approving amendments that were drafted by Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary.

The adoption of this policy means that

*Liberal Democrats are committed to expanding the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme to at least 10k a year and reaching to other world regions.
*Liberal Democrats are pledged to take in 1,000 unaccompanied refugee children a year.
*Liberal Democrats would close 8 of the 10 detention centres in the UK and impose an absolute 28 days limit on detention.
*Liberal Democrats are committed to removing asylum decisions from the Home Office and create a dedicated asylum unit in DFID.
*Liberal Democrats will restore legal aid to refugees and asylum seekers that was removed by LASPO 2012.
*Liberal Democrats will ensure victims of trafficking can testify against trafficking without risk of refoulement.
*Liberal Democrats will expand the refugee definition in UK law to explicitly recognise sexual orientation and gender identification as persecution grounds.
*Liberal Democrats endorse the Refugees (family reunion) bill that would allow refugee minors to reunite with their families.
Now the focus is on campaigning for this policy – and getting Liberal Democrats elected to implement it.

Policy on Migration and Asylum issues

Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary have submitted an amendment Amendments to F16 submitted by LD4SOS to be submitted 03 09 18 for consideration by the Federal Conference Committee to a policy motion F16, A Fair Deal for Everyone: Prosperity and Dignity in Migration (Immigration and Identity Policy Paper) going to our September conference.

You can see how the motion would read, if all our amendments are taken by conference committee, and agreed by conference, here F16 A Fair Deal for Everyone as it would read if all the LD4SOS amendments were accepted

We have worked hard to make this a motion that we can be proud of and support as Liberal Democrats. One we can go out and promote in accordance with our values, and campaign on to make a real difference.

The original motion is here on page 35 https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/libdems/pages/43501/attachments/original/1533112838/Aut18_Agenda_for_web.pdf?1533112838

relating to a policy paper you can see here : https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/libdems/pages/43501/attachments/original/1533290054/Policy_Paper_131_-_A_fair_deal_for_everyone.pdf?1533290054