It is a known fact that there are currently many significant barriers to successful integration for asylum seekers. Most local authorities are in need of more tools and funding to enable them to welcome refugees and help them to rebuild their lives.
Making the asylum system more effective has been an issue for two or more decades, and meeting the needs of the Home Office, asylum seekers and also the tax payers who fund the system is a difficult balancing act, which is why the governments current debate on the effectiveness of the dispersal system and exploring these important ideas further is imperative.
It is considered safer for asylum seekers and less burdensome to our public services if people arrive in the UK through routes designated as safe and legal by the government. But in order to meet the scale of the global displacement need and also to deter people from making dangerous journeys to the UK, these routes must also be accessible for those fleeing persecution.
Refugees who come via family reunion or refugee resettlement will arrive in a family or community that is ready and able to welcome them, but those who arrive outside of the government’s recognised routes enter the dispersal system. They are sent to different parts of the country, often in places where accommodation is cheap and readily available, and given a subsistence allowance of £39.63 per week while awaiting a decision on their asylum claim.
There are at this present time approximately 65,000 asylum seekers awaiting an initial decision on their application, 72% of whom have waited for more than six months.
Although many councils have volunteered to become new dispersal areas in order to help relieve pressure on the system, there is little likelihood of dispersed asylum seekers being placed anywhere accommodation costs are above the bare minimum or where there are local families awaiting housing. There is no extra funding available, and they are often overwhelmed by the costs associated with asylum seekers with complex needs, or by the statutory duties that apply if a family with children have an unsuccessful asylum claim but cannot be removed from the UK.
Where local authorities, however, are given the tools to operate the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme – with substantial funding and a multi-year commitment in response to the crisis in Syria – refugees have been welcomed up and down the country and supported to rebuild their lives and also to contribute to their communities. The government has taken steps in the right direction by increasing funding to councils to support care leaving children, and still more can be done to ensure local authorities are able to operate effectively.
As the majority of asylum seekers stay in the UK, either because they receive a successful decision on their claim (as more than half do) or because deporting them is costly and logistically difficult, we need an asylum system that reflects this reality and allows people to integrate effectively.
The government has recognised the importance of integration as being in the interests of those who arrive in this country seeking to rebuild their lives, allowing them to become tax-paying, economically active members of society, and in the interests of the existing population, whose communities will benefit from their skills and active participation.
Because, however, asylum seekers cannot work while they wait for a decision on their claim, and if successful are given just 28 days to move into new accommodation and to find work or apply for Universal Credit, there are still many significant barriers to successful integration.