Asylum Inquiry Scotland - final report: response
- Part of
- Equality and rights
Letter sent by Shona Robison MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government to Baroness Helena Kennedy KC, Chair of Asylum Inquiry Scotland, in response to the Asylum Inquiry Scotland final report.
To: Baroness Helena Kennedy KC, Chair of Asylum Inquiry Scotland
From: Shona Robison MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government
18 January 2023
Dear Baroness Kennedy,
I was pleased to meet with you in November to discuss the work of the Asylum Inquiry Scotland. I would like to thank you and the Inquiry members for the work you have done to gather evidence and produce this final report and recommendations.
I also recognise the strength and resilience of people who shared their lived experience to inform the Asylum Inquiry Scotland, particularly those who attended the Listening Day. I note that the report of that day has also now been published and I appreciate the care taken by the Asylum Inquiry Scotland to create a safe space to listen to people. The Listening Day report includes some harrowing accounts and testimony of people’s experiences. I hope that, however difficult it must be to revisit traumatic events, the Listening Day process has been beneficial for participants in sharing their burden. .I also share in the hope that, even if solutions are not possible, this can influence positive change.
I am pleased to provide the following response from the Scottish Government to the Inquiry’s report.
Scottish Government response to the Asylum Inquiry Scotland final report
The Scottish Government supports calls for a public inquiry into asylum accommodation and support during Covid-19. Such an inquiry must include events leading up to the tragic incident at the Park Inn on 26 June 2020 and the long term impact on people who were being accommodated in the Park Inn and other asylum accommodation in Glasgow at the time.
I recognise the issues being raised in the Asylum Inquiry Scotland final report and support calls for positive change in the UK asylum system.
The majority of recommendations set out in the report are the responsibility of the Home Office and its contractors. I have highlighted the report to the Home Secretary and will encourage the UK Government to consider and respond to the recommendations made.
The Scottish Government has repeatedly raised issues which impact people seeking asylum living in Scotland with the UK Government. Raising these issues is not only important for individuals affected, but for our communities and society. It is of no value to anyone for people who have been forced to seek a place of safety to find themselves trapped in limbo waiting for an asylum decision, while restricted from working to support themselves and contributing their skills to our economy, while reliant on a minimal level of support which effectively enforces destitution.
The Scottish Government has long-held positions regarding improvements which could be made to the UK asylum system, which align with the recommendations being made by the Asylum Inquiry Scotland.
The UK Government must invest in the UK asylum system to increase the quality and speed of asylum decisions. That is the only way to uphold the UK’s international responsibilities as a founding signatory to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees and reduce the number of people forced to rely on asylum accommodation and support while they await a decision.
The UK needs an asylum system that is effective, efficient and delivers for people who may be highly vulnerable and our communities. People seeking asylum should be treated with dignity and respect at all stages of the asylum process. The UK Government needs to invest in the UK asylum system to improve it, not find new ways to make it more complex, prolonged and challenging to navigate for people seeking safety.
Financial support provided to people seeking asylum should reflect the real costs of daily life, including digital access and travel costs.
The Home Office should allow people seeking asylum to work. Access to employment can support people to settle and integrate. It enables people to use their skills and experience, rebuild their confidence, expand their social networks, and reduce the risk of poverty or reliance on government support. However, it is important to recognise that the first priority for people seeking asylum is their application for refugee status and that the preparation required to support their application and interviews can be time consuming. People may also have experienced significant trauma and need support before they will be able to reach a place where they are able to focus on employment. The right to work must therefore be balanced with recognition that not everyone will be in a position to work. The Home Office also shouldn’t artificially restrict people who are granted permission to work by limiting them to roles on the Shortage Occupation List.
People seeking asylum should be accommodated in communities, with access to the support and services they need to rebuild their lives. The Scottish Government supports the widening of asylum dispersal in principle, but believes participation by local authorities should remain voluntary. This year the Home Office announced funding for local authorities who participate in dispersal, both to recognise the work of local authorities like Glasgow which have supported people seeking asylum for decades and to encourage new participation. While this funding and recognition of the role of local authorities and services is welcomed, it was only committed for a single financial year. The Home Office should provide long-term funding to enable better support for people seeking asylum as well as local communities. Funding should also be at a level to properly resource local services. As illustrated in the Asylum Inquiry Scotland report and recommendations, there also needs to be improved partnership working, data and information sharing to prevent gaps in service access. The Home Office must engage with relevant local authorities and other public services as early as possible when considering any system changes.
The Home Office also needs to take its responsibility to safeguard people in its care seriously and ensure that there are systems in place to recognise when someone needs support and the processes in place to enable people to access appropriate services. This should include ensuring that services they have procured are appropriate and provide the support people require. If current Home Office contracts do not provide what is needed to support people’s wellbeing, the Home Office should engage appropriate services and provide the resources needed to equip them to support people seeking asylum.
New Scots refugee integration strategy
Scotland’s pioneering approach to supporting refugees and people seeking asylum, as members of our communities, is set out in the New Scots refugee integration strategy.
The Scottish Government works alongside COSLA and Scottish Refugee Council as our key partners in the New Scots refugee integration strategy. The successful impact it has had to date is also a reflection of the work of wider partners across public services, local authorities, legal professionals, the third sector and communities. The principles which guide the New Scots strategy include: refugee involvement; inclusive communities; and partnership and collaboration. The mechanism to power and resource the New Scots refugee integration strategy is therefore grounded in partnership and collaboration. We can achieve far more together, and New Scots provides a framework for our collective ambition.
The Scottish Government provides funding to a range of organisations to support work which aligns with the New Scots refugee integration strategy and supports integration of refugees and people seeking asylum in Scotland. In the financial year 2022-23, the Scottish Government is providing around £950,000 to support this work. Due to the inclusive approach being taken in Scotland, further resource also supports people to access mainstream services and other support. The Scottish Government is taking an inclusive approach, through the New Scots refugee integration strategy and the Ending Destitution Together strategy, to provide support on an equal basis to anyone resident in Scotland, where it is possible to do so.
The New Scots partnership has also been successful in securing EU funding for the New Scots Refugee Integration Delivery Project, a £5 million project which has supported the delivery of the current strategy. This funding is testament to the work of New Scots partners and the international recognition of our vision to support integration from day one. The learning from this project will be instrumental in informing the development of the next New Scots refugee integration strategy, which we have committed to develop with our partners for publication in 2023. We want to ensure that refugees and people seeking asylum remain at the heart of the New Scots strategy and will be developing engagement which enables them to share their experience and knowledge to inform the strategy. I would therefore encourage the Asylum Inquiry panel and everyone who has engaged with this work to look out for opportunities to participate in engagement and promote those to asylum and refugee communities.
Devolved services and support
The New Scots refugee integration strategy is set within our devolved context and seeks to implement our vision for a welcoming Scotland where integration is supported from day one of arrival. As the evidence presented in the Asylum Inquiry Scotland report make clear, there are fundamental issues in the UK asylum accommodation and support systems.
The provision of this support and operation of these systems is the responsibility of the Home Office. However, many of the services which are essential to supporting people seeking asylum living in our communities are devolved.
Access to healthcare has been raised in your report. Scottish Ministers are clear that people seeking asylum living in Scotland are entitled to access healthcare services. They can register with a GP to receive general medical services, including referrals to mental health services and other specialist services for specific conditions. Support can also be provided through NHS 24.
Information about access to healthcare for refugees and asylum seekers is available on the NHS Inform website: Healthcare for refugees and asylum seekers | NHS inform. This includes a link to GP Access Cards which were designed to support anyone who needs to register at a new GP Practice. The cards were developed with people seeking asylum, people experiencing homelessness and Gypsy/Travellers to help improve access to healthcare.
The Ending Destitution Together strategy sets out the approach developed by the Scottish Government and COSLA to prevent and mitigate destitution arising due to No Recourse to Public Funds. Access to legal advice and advocacy is a key element of this work. I was pleased to announce continued funding of the legal diagnostic service, coordinated by the Scottish Refugee Council for the rest of this financial year. Further work to support advice and advocacy will continue through the Ending Destitution Together strategy, alongside other actions which commit to do what we can within our devolved competence to support people living in our communities, both at times of crisis and to prevent such situations arising.
The Scottish Government recognises the benefits of peer to peer support and networks, which can help people to feel less isolated and provide a space to share their knowledge, skills and companionship. A variety of peer models and projects have been developed by third sector organisations, including through integration networks, the Voices network and grassroots community organisations. Peer support is also a feature of informal networks and friendship groups which can be fundamental to a person’s wellbeing and feeling of connection within our communities.
The Scottish Government is currently supporting peer support projects within mental health. The Communities Mental Health and Wellbeing Fund for adults is investing £36 million over two years in support for small grass roots groups and organisations to deliver community activities clearly focused on improving mental health and wellbeing. Year 1 of the Fund has supported a range of projects providing peer support, including Glasgow Mental Health Peer Support Group.
The Scottish Government is also funding the Scottish Recovery Network to build peer support groups in communities across Scotland. Scottish Recovery Network seeks to ensure that people with lived experience have the learning and development opportunities to develop and deliver peer support and services and that organisations have the knowledge and tools required to develop peer approaches and allow peer supporter roles to thrive.
Please again extend my appreciation to the Asylum Inquiry Panel and secretariat for the work they have undertaken. In the absence of a public inquiry they should be commended for providing people with the forum to share their experience, capture evidence and report significant issues in the UK’s asylum accommodation and support systems.
When your final report was published, I wrote to the Home Secretary to draw her attention to this work and invited her to meet to discuss it, as well as wider issues with the UK asylum system. I am still awaiting a response. Please be assured that I will continue to raise issues impacting people seeking asylum with the UK Government and to push for positive change, as this is in the interest not only of individuals who have been forced to seek safety but for our communities, our society and our nation.
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