Opinion: How we made policy on asylum issues

Advocates disrupt transfer of asylum seekers from VillawoodEver wondered how party policy is made? I was on the “Immigration, Asylum and Identity” Policy Working Group, and the process has taken a whole year. Living in the north east, I daren’t begin to add up the cost of the fares, and food on the move, for meetings every 10 days on an evening in London, but it was an opportunity to get some good and Liberal policies for the Party for those asylum seekers who seek sanctuary in the UK.

Between March and summer was spent on taking evidence, and formulating questions for the consultation session at the September Conference. I looked at every piece of evidence relating to asylum issues, and did a mammoth cutting and pasting on them. Then for the actual putting the policy together, right up to the week before Christmas.  After Federal Policy Committee in January “Making Migration Work for Britain” was published, ready for conference. I was pleased that there was a good debate, with interventions.

I didn’t agree with the wording of everything, either in the policy paper or motion, but I was given the chance to put the case to the rest of the working group, and was listened to. Asylum is just one of eight sections in the paper, and it probably took up more than 1/8th of the time. I must thank Andrew Stunell who chaired and steered us so well, it must have been the most difficult policy paper for a long time, with the current climate over immigration issues. His office, Policy Unit, and other members of the working group are to thank too. Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary were brilliant, giving me lots of much needed moral support, and feeding ideas and views, as well as facts and information. Most of all thanks to my husband, who was not only happy to support me, but picked me up at Darlington station at midnight each time, too!

Here is a flavour of some of the policies now agreed :

An end to the disgraceful, and expensive, practice of Indefinite Detention for immigration purposes.

An end to the inappropriate use of the notorious “Detained Fast Track” process.

The end to child detention to be put into legislation.

‘Getting it right first time’, on decision making.

Re-establish the 6 month decision-making target for asylum claims.

Better training for Home Office staff who deal directly with more vulnerable groups.

Better interpretation and translation services to be available at each stage of the process.

Accurate, up-to-date understanding of relevant Country of Origin Information must be provided to decision makers to stop removals to unsafe countries.

All working-age asylum seekers to be required to look for work if their case has not been resolved within 6 months.  Current restrictions on which occupations asylum seekers can work in to be lifted.

Abolish the Azure Card and Section 4 and provide all asylum support under Section 95 which will be uprated in the same way as other benefits.  End-to-end support will end destitution.

Outsourced contracts for the delivery of enforcement and asylum services (including housing) must be monitored more effectively, with more accountability and transparency in their work.

Deportation, transportation and the accountability of enforcement functions to be transferred to the public sector as soon as the current contracts permit.

LD4SOS are inspired by, and continue to be, driven by the experiences of those we know and know of who had been, or still are, seeking sanctuary in the UK. They deserve and must be treated with humanity, compassion and respect.

The work put into this is a tribute to those brave and dignified seekers of sanctuary. What we need to do now is to make sure they get into the manifesto, and we get enough good MPs elected to get these policies on the statute book.

* Suzanne Fletcher was a councillor for nearly 30 years and a voluntary advice worker with the CAB for 40 years. Now retired, she is active as a campaigner in the community both as a Lib Dem and with local organisations and author of "Bold as Brass?", the story of Brass Crosby.

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  • Richard Dean 3rd Apr '14 - 5:18pm

    I wonder if this may have missed the point? According to the following website, asylum applicants and their dependents comprised an estimated 7% of net migration in 2011, down from 49% in 2002, but up from 4% in 2010. If it’s still only a few percent of net migration, asylum seekers are not really what a significant proportion of UK voters are worried about. http://migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/briefings/migration-uk-asylum

    The recent deportation of a teenage school pupil to Mauritius is a disgrace in many people’s view, though many would disagree too. Are any of the policies listed here relevant to this case? http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-26859110

  • What an amazing travel commitment. As a matter of interest what proportion of the group were from outside (a) Greater London (b) the London commuter belt?

  • Richard Dean 3rd Apr '14 - 11:04pm
  • roger roberts 4th Apr '14 - 12:00am

    Just to say thank you to Suzanne.Janet and others whose dedication to the Asylum seekers plight is a source of real pride.
    This week we continued with the Immigration Bill in the Lords.So disappointed that on the main issues not only had the Conservatives given way on nothing major but that the Labour party also opposed Lib Dem amendments – today there wasn’t a solitary Labour front bench voice to support my amendment to reduce the time Asylum Seekers must wait (from 12 months to six months) before they can work.

  • Paul Reynolds 4th Apr '14 - 5:16am

    Thank you very much Suzanne for enlightening info for LDV readers about the process and the conclusions of the working group. Clearly lots of hard work was done … by unpaid volunteers who paid their own way and gave up so much of their time. Like many LD policy reports of this type there was a bit of lack of clarity about the nature of the problems and how we define them, on the cost issues and how the ‘performance’ of the state and value for money for the public should be viewed, and more comprehensive international comparisons. Most importantly the reasons behind the ‘blunt instrument’ of state policy (and opaque decision-making) was not considered, nor the institutional structures in UK government which lead to such draconian measures despite a well intentioned political class – Labour and Tory. I also felt that the contracting out of parts of the processes, including detention, warranted closer inspection. A key question is WHY Sweden arrives at such a better set of outcomes for all concerned when facing very similar issues. These key points of necessary understanding behind the policy may have been carefully considered but if so they are not apparent at this stage. Good hard work nevertheless and we should all be grateful to the members of the working group.

  • On the Yashika case, this was clearly not any sort of genuine asylum case. If we are supposed to accommodate everyone who is being given a hard time by a family member, we really might as well give up pretending to manage immigration and asylum. See: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/04/mauritian-yashika-bageerathi-case-asylum-seekers?CMP=twt_gu

    As for Suzanne saying “I got the impression that if it had been handled better, the whole (Yashika’s) family would have gone back voluntarily after the exams”, you are clearly a lovely person with a better view of human nature that the hard world warrants. When did any asylum seeker voluntarily go back?

    I got the impression that if it had been handled better, the whole family would have gone back voluntarily after the exams

  • Richard Dean 4th Apr '14 - 4:26pm

    Whether genuine or not, we need to be human beings. The treatment meted out to this vulnerable 19-year old girl should never have been as brutal as it was.

  • “Ever wondered how party policy is made”

    First of all, let me thank you for your dedication and hard work for this very good cause. The question I have though us that even if brilliant and right-thinking policies are made by the efforts if you and others and voted for by Conference delegates, isn’t it true that this in no way guarantees that Lib Dem parliamentarians will vote for those policies in Parliament? This happened with Secret Courts and also it seems with the BecroomTax according to a recent thread here on LDV andIbelieve with other issues too.

  • Apologies but my keyboard is dyslexic

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