ASYLUM SEEKERS IN SCOTLAND
CHAPTER TWO: DISPERSAL IN SCOTLAND - ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES
2.1 NATIONALITY, ASYLUM AND IMMIGRATION LEGISLATION
The 1999 Asylum and Immigration Act dealt specifically with asylum procedures and support for asylum seekers. It was amended by the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, which received Royal Assent on 7 November 2002. Many of the measures contained within the NIA Act were initially introduced in the Government's White Paper ' Secure Borders, Safe Haven' (published in February 2002). Some changes have already come into force and others will be implemented during 2003.
In this section, we outline the main provisions of the 1999 Act, and the amendments introduced by the NIA Act of 2002 to provide the legislative background against which Scottish service agencies are working.
The key elements of the 1999 Act were:
- The National Asylum Support Service (NASS) was set up within the Home Office. NASS is a UK agency which co-ordinates support for asylum seekers, until a decision is made about their asylum claim. This new agency took over tasks which had previously been the responsibility of local authorities, and set up a new UK framework of support to replace them.
- The Act provided for asylum seekers to receive support in the form of vouchers, which could be used to buy goods in designated shops. These proved extremely unpopular, and have since been discontinued.
- 'No-choice' dispersal was introduced, to reduce pressure on the South East and London. NASS entered into contracts with local authorities and other housing providers across the UK to provide accommodation for asylum seekers.
- The powers of Immigration Officers were increased, to include entry, search and arrest.
The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act (2002) reflects the twin aims of UK asylum policy, namely, to ensure that migration to the UK is controlled, and to provide refuge for those deemed to be fleeing persecution and in danger of their lives. Provisions in the new Act aim to:
- set up an effective end-to-end system of induction, accommodation and removal centres to speed up the asylum process, improve contact management and tackle widespread abuse;
- maintain the integrity of the UK's borders by ensuring that our immigration controls are robust enough to exclude those who are an immigration or security risk, but are efficient, flexible and responsive enough to allow the high number of legitimate passengers to the UK to pass through quickly;
- tackle fraud, people trafficking, illegal working; and
- update nationality laws and modernise the acquisition of citizenship.
The NIA Act forms part of the most ambitious overhaul of asylum, immigration and nationality policy for a generation, being taken forward in parallel with other Government immigration reform, including:
- radical expansion of legal migration routes into this country, including doubling the number of work permits and opening up new routes for low skilled and seasonal labour;
- accepting refugees through the UNHCR, by-passing the claims system in this country and sidelining the people traffickers; and
- a ground-breaking deal with the French government which is resulting in UK immigration controls on French soil, increased security around the Channel Tunnel and the closure of the Sangatte camp.
2.2 DISPERSAL IN SCOTLAND: ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF NASS AND SASC
NASS is a UK-wide organisation with its headquarters in Croydon. As noted above, its primary role under the Act is to co-ordinate support for asylum seekers, until a decision is made about their asylum claim. Asylum and immigration are reserved matters for the Westminster Parliament and in practice, decision-making within NASS has remained highly centralised. Although there has been some decentralisation during 2002 (with staff numbers in Scotland growing from one in the early part of this year to eleven by June 2002), the Scottish manager continues to be accountable to a line manager in Croydon. Glasgow City Council and the other organisations that have a contractual relationship with NASS negotiate directly with Croydon, with the role of the Scottish NASS manager being to monitor the 'wraparound' aspects of the contract. The Scottish manager also monitors the enabling role of SASC (see below), provides its funding, and monitors the SASC business plan.
2.2.2 The Scottish Asylum Seekers Consortium
The Scottish Asylum Seekers Consortium (SASC) was set up in 1999 to manage and monitor the commissioning and provision of services for asylum seekers, including accommodation and other services.
The Consortium facilitates partnership working amongst all organisations which support asylum seekers. It aims to help plan, co-ordinate, monitor and evaluate the commissioning and provision of short and long term accommodation for asylum seekers in Scotland and to establish a forum for local authorities to agree contractual terms with accommodation providers.
SASC is not legally constituted, and therefore does not have status in law. It assists in the contractual negotiations between NASS and local authorities in Scotland but does not contract directly with NASS on behalf of these bodies
SASC also plays a key role in work to counter the myths asylum seekers spread by some sections of the media, using its media strategy and its News Monitor provides a monthly review of the media coverage of asylum issues.
The Consortium structure has four elements. These are:
- Stakeholders Group, including housing and health agencies, voluntary organisations including refugee groups, national and local government. This provides a forum to hold the Consortium accountable for its work, set up support and service delivery strategies across Scotland and monitor decisions of the Executive Group and the Project Team;
- Executive Group, consisting of nominees from housing, social work, education, health and the police and representatives of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations and the Scottish Refugee Council. This provides a policy link with NASS, the Scottish Executive, COSLA and other agencies. It identifies needs for policy development, shared operational guidance and inter-authority protocols, as well as managing the Project Team;
- Scottish Project Team is developing the overall Scottish policy for resettlement of asylum seekers and clarifying the legal and constitutional issues. It has systems for contracting, monitoring and evaluating providers and commissioning accommodation and support services. It gathers and publishes statistics and operates a media strategy;
- Multi-Agency Groups are local forums, involving voluntary organisations, refugee groups and refugee communities. They advise the Project team on issues relating to the housing and support needs of asylum seekers and refugees, and maintain links with local communities. They prepare the multi-agency plans for receiving and supporting asylum seekers and refugees under the leadership of the relevant local authority or consortium.
2.3 ROLE OF THE SCOTTISH EXECUTIVE IN RELATION TO DISPERSAL
Asylum and immigration are reserved matters, responsibility for which resides at Westminster. However, the recognition that asylum seekers also interact with devolved services such as education, health and social work, alongside the Scottish Executive's responsibility to address the needs of those asylum seekers who have been granted refugee status, has led the Executive to begin to develop policies and strategies in relation to both asylum seekers and refugees.
To assist in this process, the Scottish Refugee Integration Forum was established in January 2002 with the following remit:
- In partnership with the Scottish Executive, and in consultation with the wider public and voluntary sector interests, to develop action plans to enable the successful integration of refugees in Scotland and the provision of more accessible, co-ordinated and good quality services.
The Forum is also expected to:
- Consider all matters necessary to assist refugees to integrate into life in Scotland
- Collect and disseminate examples of good practice from around the country
- Play a key role in promoting positive images of refugees as members of society.
The Forum is chaired by the Minister for Social Justice, and was set up by Scottish Executive to allow Scotland's statutory and voluntary agencies to work in partnership to support refugees more effectively. The Forum set up six Satellite Groups which took evidence from a wide range of sources and developed draft action plans. A combined Draft Action Plan went out to consultation in autumn 2002. The final Action Plan (reflecting feedback from the consultation exercise) is expected to be published in February 2003.
2.4 KEY AGENCIES INVOLVED IN DISPERSAL
2.4.1 Glasgow City Council
The major provider of accommodation for asylum seekers in Scotland is Glasgow City Council which has contracted with NASS to provide 2,500 units per year over 5 years, from April 2000. The Council has set up the Glasgow Asylum Seeker Support Project (GASSP) in partnership with Police and Health providers. This project has dedicated Education, Police and Health staff at its base and has operational staff with both Housing and Social Work backgrounds. GASSP staff aim to ensure that asylum seekers access Health and Education services and provide information and advice on local resources. GASSP also has a dedicated resettlement team whose role is to assist asylum seekers when they receive a decision in relation to their refugee status. The Council has also issued a Code of Guidance and Good Practice for its staff in other Departments.
YMCA Glasgow entered into a separate contract with NASS to provide accommodation to asylum seekers at its property in Balornock. This came into force in April 2000 and, like the GCC contract, is for five years. The initial contract was to offer full-board accommodation, but since July 2002 has been fully self-catering. A 24 hour support service is provided, to deal with any of the many issues that asylum seekers are faced with, along with a drop-in centre with Internet Café, children's play area, coffee bar and study area, volunteering opportunities, English classes with Glasgow North College, a music group with Northern Rock, English tutorials, a women's group and regular residents' consultations. A Settlement and Integration Project, funded through the European Refugee Fund, provides mentoring support and workshops for people with a positive decision; a skills audit is being carried out in order to explore opportunities for training, placements and voluntary work for residents. Those staying at the YMCA are single men and women, couples and families.
2.4.3 The Scottish Refugee Council
The Scottish Refugee Council is the national non-governmental organisation in Scotland for refugees. It has three main areas of activity:
- Providing advice, information and assistance to asylum seekers and refugees in Scotland.
- Promoting a strategic response to refugee needs.
- Campaigning to ensure that Scotland plays its role meeting the UK's legal and humanitarian obligations under the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees.
The SRC employs 2 operational teams to deliver services to refugees:
- Settlement and Integration Team. This is focused on development work with other agencies and community groups promoting refugee integration and settlement. It contributes to strategic planning at Scottish/UK level. It also provides specialist advice, training and support to other Scottish Refugee Council staff and external agencies.
- One Stop Service - This provides a generic advice and advocacy service to dispersed asylum seekers and refugees. It co-ordinates and develops voluntary sector support in collaboration with the Settlement and Integration Team. It also monitors the impact of the NASS dispersal system on the human rights and welfare of asylum seekers to facilitate advocacy and campaigning. The One Stop Service is funded by NASS and was set up in March 1999. The current grant agreement expired on September 31 st 2002 but confirmation has been received of a further 3 years funding until September 2005. The SRC's core funding comes not from NASS but from other public funding sources, including Glasgow City Council.
2.5 ROLE OF OTHER AGENCIES
A very diverse range of other organisations is also involved in providing services for asylum seekers but these organisations have no contractual relationship with NASS. They include legal agencies, interpreting services, welfare agencies, community-based organisations, advocacy services, and religious bodies (including Christian, Muslim and Sikh organisations). The sheer diversity of these organisations makes it impossible to make generalised comments about their role, remit or funding. As far as possible, however, an attempt has been made within the present study to represent as wide a range of their views and experience as possible.