Ed Davey writes…World Refugee Day: Restoring compassion and dignity

Today is World Refugee Day – when we celebrate the amazing contributions that refugees make to the social, cultural and economic life of our country, and raise awareness of the 29 million refugees and asylum seekers around the world.

Every minute, 30 people are forced to flee their homes to escape the horrors of war, violence or persecution.

This is the biggest refugee crisis in history. The number of refugees has doubled in the last fifteen years. More than half of them are children. Over 6 million refugees are from Syria.

The UK has a long and proud record of providing asylum to seekers of sanctuary – from Jews escaping Nazi Germany to Sri Lankans, Somalians and Syrians fleeing civil war.

But now, the Conservatives seem determined to make our asylum system as cruel and unwelcoming as possible.

The clearest example is the inexplicable ban on asylum seekers working while their claims are processed. Thousands of people are left waiting for months for a decision, dependent on a government handout of £37.75 a week.

Allowing asylum seekers to work is a no-brainer. It’s good for them, good for businesses and good for taxpayers. That’s why the Liberal Democrats have tabled legislation to give asylum seekers the right to work if they’ve been waiting for more than three months.

The Government must also stop locking up asylum seekers – including victims of torture – in detention centres with no idea when they’ll be released. It’s inhumane, unnecessary and expensive.

The Liberal Democrats believe detention should be an absolute last resort, and we are supporting cross-party efforts to impose a 28-day time limit on detention.

Beyond these clear issues, though, is a pernicious culture at the Home Office that means asylum seekers are treated appallingly. It has a shockingly poor record on getting decisions right, with 44% of appeals upheld by a judge.

Officials treat even the most vulnerable people with callous suspicion. This is particularly bad for LGBT+ asylum seekers, who are often asked to prove their sexuality in humiliating ways. Some are asked explicit questions about sex lives, while others are forced to produce screenshots of their conversations on dating sites, or statements from former partners.

The Home Office is clearly not fit for purpose. And, when it comes to immigration and asylum, the Liberal Democrats believe it is beyond repair.

We will take asylum decisions away from the Home Office, and establish a new, non-political body staffed by highly-trained caseworkers who can make decisions quickly and fairly, getting them right first time.

That’s how we make sure that seekers of sanctuary are treated with compassion and dignity.

* Ed Davey is the MP for Kingston and Surbiton and Lib Dem Home Affairs spokesperson.

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One Comment

  • I absolutely agree that the restriction on work for asylum seekers is a terrible policy. It’s bad for the long-term welfare and future of the asylum seeker themselves and it’s a complete waste for us too. Many asylum seekers have very useful skills and could contribute to our society given the chance.

    In some circumstances, there might be a need to delay access to certain professions, because getting those disclosure forms processed wouldn’t be easy, and in order to prove sufficient English language skills, but for the latter – all the more reason to do some kind of work, even if it’s part time and not what they are used to.

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