Monday, 1 June 2020

Campaign Response: Help protect people seeking asylum during the Covid 19 pandemic/The 26 pence-a-day increase to Asylum Support is nowhere near enough

Some constituents have recently written to me about their concerns over the way that our asylum system is functioning and how asylum seekers are treated under the current circumstances.

I have always been clear we need not only a controlled and robust immigration system, but  also one that demonstrates compassionate to those who most need our help.

In terms of our asylum system, I believe this translates into an effective border enforcement system that is complemented by an efficient asylum decision system, one that does not leave individuals and their families out in the dark about their immigration status for too long.

Constituents have asked me to raise three particular areas of action with the Home Secretary. The first relates to the need for asylum seekers to physically travel to regional centres around the UK physically to file their claim. I fully understand the difficulty and risks around travelling under these circumstances, but I can also see why the Home Office would require asylum seekers to be physically present at these centres in order for them to verify their identity and to prevent any risk of fraud or abuse in the system. As such I will be bearing this in mind when I next speak to ministerial colleagues at the Home Office to seek clarification on this area.

Secondly, on the point of increasing asylum support by £20 per week for 12 months, I have reservations that this would create perverse incentives for more to try to come to the UK to claim asylum, at a time when international travel of all forms are fraught with risks. As we look to embark on what could well be a very long road to full recovery from the impact of Covid-19, last thing that our NHS and our public infrastructure need right now is additional demand.

What I would instead suggest is that we need to be looking at ways to further expedite the decision-making within our asylum system, so that those who arrive here with often limited resources can get a quick decision on whether they are given the sanctuary (and with it, the right to work) in this country, instead of having to rely on government support for weeks and months on end. This is something that I have stressed with ministers before and I will continue to make this point.

On their third area of action relating to the adequacy of accommodation for asylum seekers, while I understand that constituents are concerned about the welfare of asylum seekers in shared accommodation, I note that many other citizens and residents in the UK such as are also living in shared spaces too without encountering any issues with social-distancing. It is obviously important that steps are taken to ensure that those who have contracted the virus are self-isolating and not putting others at risk. I am not aware of any particular issues with this, or with the supply of cleaning and hygiene products in asylum accommodation. But I will try to seek confirmation from the relevant ministers that the right steps are being taken whenever possible.