Failed asylum seekers with families to lose financial support after 28 day "grace period"
These are the proposals made by the Home Office in a consultation paper published on 4 August on: "Reforming support for failed asylum seekers and other illegal immigrants".
(Please see this link to read the report). The Government proposes to introduce these measures from 1 July 2016.
Currently support to asylum seekers, such as accommodation and a weekly cash allowance, is provided by the Home Office under the provisions of section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (the 1999 Act).
Section 95(1) of the Act maintains that:
The Secretary of State may provide, or arrange for the provision of, support for--
(a) asylum-seekers, or
(b) dependants of asylum-seekers, who appear to the Secretary of State to be destitute or to be likely to become destitute within such period as may be prescribed.
However, under the provisions of s94(5) of the Act, failed asylum seekers who have a dependent child continue to receive the support even after their asylum claim has been refused and all appeal rights have been exhausted. The Government states that an estimated £73 million was used to support failed asylum seekers in 2014-15 and claims that the protection offered under the current legislation "sends a wrong message", is open for abuse and needs to be "rebalanced".
The Government maintains that it is committed to fulfilling its international obligations to meet minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers set out by the EU Reception Directive 2003/9/EC, and has a "proud record of providing a safe haven for refugees". However, the Government suggests curtailing "the scope for support and to remove incentives" for failed asylum seekers and other migrants who remain in the country illegally.
The consultation paper proposes to introduce a so-called "grace period" for failed asylum seekers with families - i.e. time in which failed asylum seekers must leave the UK after their asylum claim has failed. The period would start immediately after the asylum claim is finally rejected and any appeal rights have been exhausted. Under the current regulations failed asylum seekers without dependant children have 21 days to leave the country. Under the Government's new plans, failed asylum seekers with families would see their support terminated within 28 days after their asylum claim fails. The family would need to depart the country unless they can demonstrate a genuine obstacle beyond their control to prevent the departure, such as medical problems, threat of being returned to a war zone or administrative issues with travel documents. There would be no right of appeal against a refusal to extend the grace period. The new rules would be incorporated into primary legislation and apply to those asylum seekers who had their claims finally determined after July 2016.
The paper claims that: "Failed asylum seekers are illegal immigrants and are no more deserving of welfare support than any other migrant in the UK unlawfully." However, many human rights, asylum seekers and refugee organisations, including UNHCR, take the view that an asylum seeker, even when their asylum claim has been refused, cannot be branded an illegal immigrant. UNHCR's web site states: "There is no such thing as a bogus asylum seeker or an illegal asylum seeker. As an asylum seeker, a person has entered into a legal process of refugee status determination. Everybody has a right to seek asylum in another country. People who don't qualify for protection as refugees will not receive refugee status and may be deported, but just because someone doesn't receive refugee status doesn't mean they are a bogus asylum seeker".
Although the Government has declared that the cessation of Home Office support to the failed asylum seekers would not trigger human rights infringements, it has invited the views of organisations and local authorities on the proposals set out in the consultation paper; in particular, whether the grace period should be longer. The response from NGOs to the proposals thus far has been negative. The Refugee Council announced that: "The Government has launched a consultation on new plans set to leave vulnerable families living on the streets...This deplorable plan could leave families homeless, penniless and vulnerable to exploitation as they struggle to survive." Refugee Action called the government's plans "seriously flawed".
It is worth noting that ten years ago the Labour Government tried to implement similar rules as those proposed in the latest consultation paper, but after an unsuccessful trial, such measures were dropped.
The proposals form just part of a whole host of measures announced or introduced since the General Election aimed at reducing the number of asylum claims and illegal immigration. The Government has recently adopted a much tougher tone to address immigration. It has declared that the UK is "not a land of milk and honey" and that "perverse incentives" attracting people to the country must end. Despite this rhetoric, the consultation paper provides the Government recognises that "...it would be impracticable to abruptly cease the provision of support by the Home Office to failed asylum seekers already in receipt of it when new legislation came into force" and proposes "...to put in place transitional arrangements for the management of these cases". The Government has attempted to address concerns that the support would be automatically cut off to those who genuinely need it, especially when children's welfare is at stake. Therefore, the Government has said that the new rules would not be applied automatically to all failed asylum seekers and their families, but assessed on a case-by-case basis. It remains to be seen what final form these proposals will take once the consultation period has ended in September 2015.