UK Politics

Two-tier system leaving refugees in UK destitute, says report

UN-run refugee camp in Syria Image copyright Getty Images

Thousands of refugees face homelessness and destitution because of a "two-tier" UK system, MPs and peers have warned.

The all-party parliamentary group on refugees says people brought to the UK via resettlement schemes receive more support than those given refugee status after arriving as asylum seekers.

It says the next government should create a minister for refugees to help level the playing field.

Government officials point to a special migration fund set up last year.

More than 50,000 refugees are said to have arrived in the UK through the asylum route since 2012, while government-led resettlement programmes, including from Syria, accounted for fewer than 10,000 people in the same period.

'Stress and despair'

After an asylum claim is granted, individuals have just 28 days before government support is withdrawn.

This, the report says, is leading to "stress and despair" among newly-recognised refugees as they struggle to access housing and benefits.

Those problems are made worse by:

  • Administrative delays
  • Patchy English language provision
  • A lack of employment, skills support and UK-wide integration strategy

It says: "Those refugees who have come through the asylum route will have faced the same persecution and violence as those who are resettled.

"That two refugees who could have fled from the same country, the same town, even the same neighbourhood could have such different experiences of what it means to be a refugee in the UK is unacceptable."

In contrast, people who come to the UK under a resettlement package can expect:

  • To stay for five years, after which they can apply to settle in the UK
  • To get an extra 12 hours a week of English language tuition, for up to six months

Local councils will also be paid £8,500 by the government for each refugee in their first year to go towards housing, healthcare and other costs. That figure tapers to £1,000 by the fifth year.

The report said those levels of support - and an integration scheme run by the Scottish government - were examples of good practice that could be replicated for refugees more widely.

A dedicated minister for refugees would be able to oversee the improvements needed, it added.

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Media captionSyrian refugees on settling into life in Scotland

The chairwoman of the all-party group, Labour MP Thangam Debbonaire, said: "Creating a two-tier system for refugees, loading the dice against people who come here to build a new life, is not just the wrong thing to do, but a costly missed opportunity for Britain."

She said most refugees wanted to return home when conflict was over but wanted to contribute to this country in the meantime.

"These are often skilled professionals and, by definition, they all have strength and determination to offer," she added.

Conservative MP David Burrowes, the group's vice-chairman, said: "For too many refugees, being granted their status is the beginning of a period characterised by homelessness and destitution.

"Protection must mean more than just a piece of paper."

Stephen Hale, chief executive of the charity Refugee Action, called for all parties to commit to increased funding for English language courses for refugees.

"This report is a timely wake-up call - the new government must seize the opportunity to enable all refugees in Britain, regardless of how they arrive, to successfully rebuild their lives."

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