REFUGEE COUNCIL QUESTIONS TO CANDIDATES WITH LIBERAL DEMOCRAT POLICY ANSWERS.
The Refugee Council has asked people to send candidates questions on refugee and asylum issues, which is excellent. However given that not all candidates will receive the questions, and many will not have time to answer, LD4SOS thought it helpful to let people know how Liberal Democrat policy answers the questions asked.
The headings and questions are in bold, and the Lib Dem answers in italics.
The last Government has committed to resettling 5,000 refugees from around the world to the UK next year, providing them with support to integrate and move on with their lives. At the moment, we don’t know what will happen or how many will be resettled in later years, starting in 2021. While this commitment is important, people working with refugees believe that the UK, one of the richest countries in the world, can and should do more. Across the world, there are more refugees than at any time since the end of the Second World War, yet we only take a tiny proportion. We believe that the UK should commit to resettling 10,000 refugees every year, on an ongoing basis.
Question: If elected, will you press for the Government to show leadership in its response to the global refugee crisis by increasing the number of refugees resettled in the UK?
Our Manifesto says that we would “Provide safe and legal routes to sanctuary in the UK by resettling 10,000 vulnerable refugees each year and a further 10,000 unaccompanied refugee children from elsewhere in Europe over the next ten years”
Further detail is here http://libdemfocus.co.uk/ld4sos/archives/1685 adding that we would also expand the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme, both to help a greater number of people from that region and to cover other conflict zones. In addition we would consider how the UK can best work with other countries, particularly in Europe, to address other situations which can already be anticipated such as the rapidly expanding population of Nigeria and the impacts of climate change.
Refugee Family Reunion
Once someone has been recognised as a refugee in the UK, there are rules that allow them to bring family members to live with them here. This is crucial in allowing refugees to rebuild their lives, without worrying about loved ones, and allowing them to integrate into their new communities. This also allows families to be reunited without having to take dangerous journeys and relying on smugglers to get to the UK. Unfortunately, the UK’s rules on refugee family reunion are too restrictive. Unaccompanied child refugees are unable to bring any close family members to join them in the UK, a government policy that differs from almost every other country in Europe. Adult refugees aren’t allowed to bring their parents, siblings, or their children who are over 18, even though these are very close family members.
Question: If you are elected, will you make the case for changing the rules on refugee family reunion, so that more refugees can be reunited with their family members?
Our manifesto says we would expand family reunion rights. There is more detail in our document here http://libdemfocus.co.uk/ld4sos/archives/1648 where we says that we would extend the definition of a family member in relation to the applicant seeking reunification (who may be the sponsor or the family member applying to join the sponsor) to incorporate their spouse, their civil or unmarried partner, their children aged under 18, their grandchildren under 18, their unmarried child aged 18 or over, their parent, their sibling under the age of 18, their niece or nephew under the age of 18 or any other dependent relative not listed here.
Homelessness and destitution amongst newly recognised refugees
New refugees who have had their asylum claim accepted by the UK government still face incredible challenges when starting their new lives in the UK. From the point at which they acquire refugee status, they are given only 28 days to access welfare benefits, housing, and employment. This is not a fair or realistic timescale, and it means that many refugees are left homeless and destitute, at the very point they have been granted protection by the government. Alongside this, there are other specific policies that make things more difficult for new refugees. Universal Credit has a five-week waiting period, and though refugees can access advance payments, this puts them into debt which they then have to pay for over future months.
Question: If you become my next MP, will you commit to looking at the system for new refugees, and argue for better support mechanisms for this vulnerable group?
Our Manifesto says we would Increase the ‘move-on period’ for refugees from 28 days to 60 days. There is more detail in this document http://libdemfocus.co.uk/ld4sos/archives/1664
Furthermore, many refugees have no savings, and no financial support networks, yet are often expected to find a home in the private rented sector, where landlords usually expect a deposit and rent up-front. This is financially out of their reach, yet there is limited support from government to ensure these new refugees are safely and securely housed.
Question: If you are elected, will you look at how to support refugees into the private rental sector, and pledge to find ways to prevent refugee homelessness?
Our Manifesto says that “To reform the private rental sector, we will:
- Help young people into the rental market by establishing a new Help to Rent scheme to provide government-backed tenancy deposit loans for all first-time renters under 30.
- Promote longer tenancies of three years or more with an inflation-linked annual rent increase built in, to give tenants security and limit rent hikes.
- Improve protections against rogue landlords through mandatory licensing.
On Ending Rough Sleeping our manifesto continues :
Nobody should have to spend a night sleeping on the streets. However rough sleeping has been increasing since the 2008 recession and is one of the most visible signs of increasing poverty and inequality. Liberal Democrats will end rough sleeping within five years. To do this, we will:
Urgently publish a cross-Whitehall plan to end all forms of homelessness.
- Exempt groups of homeless people, and those at risk of homelessness, from the Shared Accommodation Rate.
- Make providers of asylum support accommodation subject to a statutory duty to refer people leaving asylum support accommodation who are at risk of homelessness to the local housing authority.
- Introduce a ‘somewhere safe to stay’ legal duty to ensure that everyone who is at risk of sleeping rough is provided with emergency accommodation and an assessment of their needs.
- Ensure sufficient financial resources for local authorities to deliver the Homelessness Reduction Act and provide accommodation for survivors of domestic abuse.
- Legislate for longer term tenancies and limits on annual rent increases.
- Scrap the Vagrancy Act, so that rough sleeping is no longer criminalised.
Reforming our asylum system
When people arrive in the UK and make a claim for asylum, their experience of the system is often poor or distressing. Too many people are not believed first time, but are then found to be refugees after they appeal this decision (around 40% of appeals are successful). This is a waste of time and money and causes significant distress for people seeking protection.
Question: If elected, will you seek to ensure asylum decision-making is improved, and that more decisions are made correctly first-time?
Our Manifesto says that we would “Move asylum policymaking from the Home Office to the Department for International Development and establish a dedicated unit to improve the speed and quality of decision-making”
Also there is more detail on our policy here http://libdemfocus.co.uk/ld4sos/archives/1667 which has a 15 point plan.
We will review and reform all aspects of current asylum rules and operations that offend basic measures of fairness and justice. In particular we would seek to change the culture of disbelief that affects all people applying for asylum. The Home Office is not fit for purpose and needs radical reform. The political influence must be taken out of decision making.
We believe it will improve the appeals process by transferring the cost from the Ministry of Justice to the new dedicated unit for asylum applications, thereby incentivising getting it ‘right first time’. It is vitally important that as many decisions as possible are right first time, as it saves time, money and prolonged misery.
Those who are waiting for a decision on their asylum claim have to live on a little over £5 per day for all their living costs, and most people seeking asylum cannot work, meaning they struggle to get by.
Question: Will you make the case for better financial support for people seeking asylum, including supporting their right to work, so they can support themselves during their asylum claim?
Our Manifesto says that we would “Give asylum seekers the right to work three months after they have applied, enabling them to work in any role so that they can support themselves, integrate into their communities and contribute through taxation.
There is more detail of our policy on the right to work, here http://libdemfocus.co.uk/ld4sos/archives/1688
On financial support we would ensure the level of support for asylum seekers is at the same level for all and that all can use the Aspen Card to withdraw cash. We would also launch a review into the current low level of support with a view to raising it to ensure that it is enough to live on. We think it likely that the tax revenue raised by allowing seekers of sanctuary to work, would more than pay for such a raise in this allowance. We believe that support rates should go up in line with benefits.
The UK locks up around 24,700 people every year for immigration reasons. Around half of these have applied for asylum at some point. There is no maximum time limit on how long someone can be detained for, unless they are pregnant or families with children. This means people in immigration detention have no idea when they will be released. The UK still detains some children seeking asylum. Immigration detention can be deeply damaging for people’s mental health, and is unnecessary in most circumstances. It should be replaced by a system where people can live in the community and are monitored there.
Question: As a parliamentary candidate, will you support the campaign to end indefinite immigration detention?
Our Manifesto says that we would “Make immigration detention an absolute last resort, introduce a 28-day time limit on detention and close seven of the UK’s nine detention centres.”
Also more detail on our policy, as in http://libdemfocus.co.uk/ld4sos/archives/1676, says that :
- Detention to be subject to judicial review within 72 hours, and to be no more than 28 days overall.
- Detention to be used only as a last resort, for as few days as possible, for as short a time as possible.
- A drastic reduction in the detention estate, which can, and should, be done.
- An end to the detention of all vulnerable people. This includes victims of torture, those with mental illness and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, victims of gender based violence, pregnant women, and people with learning difficulties.
- Alternatives to detention through case-worker support in the community.
- Better conditions in both refugee housing and in detention.
Support for integration
Many refugees arrive in the UK (whether resettled or through the asylum system) with limited English language skills. Although we all understand and agree that learning English is a vital first step for someone to move forward in the UK, funding for English language teaching is limited, and means that many struggle to access the classes they need. People in the asylum system should have access to free English language classes while their claim is ongoing. Research shows that the sooner refugees are allowed to learn English the sooner they are able to participate in society and start rebuilding their lives.
Question: If you are elected, will you push government to put in place funding for guaranteed English language teaching for all new refugees?
Our Manifesto says that “we would provide free basic English lessons to any seeker of sanctuary, refugees and asylum seekers”.
More detail on our policy says that we would start these lessons at the earliest opportunity, so that people would be able to integrate and work in the UK as soon as possible. Also they would then be able to engage, participate and contribute fully to the local community and British society, as so many express the strong desire to do.