Hidden Lives - New Beginnings: Destitution, asylum and insecure immigration status in Scotland

Date: 13th June 2017
Category: Refugee , migrant and asylum-seeking children

In January, the Scottish Parliament agreed to launch an inquiry into Destitution, Asylum and Insecure Immigration Status in Scotland. This report examines the impact of destitution on asylum seekers and those with insecure immigration status based on evidence from NGOs, individuals and families.

It looks at the reasons why destitution occurs, the support being provided currently by public authorities, non-governmental public bodies, third sector and charity organisations to mitigate destitution and makes recommendations to improve the response by public authorities in Scotland.

According to the UNHRC, the UN Refugee Agency, we are now witnessing the highest levels of displacement of people on record. In 2015, 34,000 people are forcibly displaced every day as a result of conflict or persecution.

An unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. There are also 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement. Fifty-three per cent of refugees come from Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia.

More than a million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe in 2015, sparking a crisis as countries struggled to cope with the influx.

Scotland has made a significant contribution to the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Programme and welcomed over a hundred unaccompanied children.

It is time to evaluate how Scotland approaches the issue of destitution for people who are seeking asylum and aren't part of the resettlement programmes, or who have insecure immigration status and, due to a change in their circumstances, find they have No Recourse to Public Funds. For many people going back to their home country is not a choice, being destitute is preferable to being imprisoned, tortured or killed.

The Equalities and Human Rights Committee spoke to people who are living with the effects of trauma and through their courage heard their real-life stories of struggle and pain. Some had experienced abuse, torture and exploitation and fled to find protection in the UK only to become destitute and vulnerable again.

Key findings

Evidence received showed the asylum and immigration system is peppered with points at which the risk of destitution becomes likely. The sheer complexity and inaccessibility of the process makes it unnecessarily difficult in practical terms for someone new to the UK, who is destitute, to initiate the process. Once destitute, it is much harder for people to re-engage with the asylum process. Destitution is further built into the system by there being only certain geographical locations in the England where parts of the process can be accessed. People with insecure immigration status find themselves destitute for a combination of reasons but mainly linked to human trafficking or abusive relationships. More work must be undertaken to identify the scale and nature of destitution in Scotland, particularly because in carrying out this inquiry, it was found that visible homelessness is the tip of the iceberg and destitution is largely hidden in plain sight, with many organisations picking up the pieces. The Equalities and Human Rights Committee have asked the Scottish Government (and public authorities) for a number of actions:

  • The creation of a 'Scottish anti-destitution strategy' to inform a national approach to mitigating destitution. (para 51)
  • The creation of a new Scottish Government advocacy service for destitute people with insecure immigration status. (para 190)
  • The creation of a national coordinated practitioners' network, which would include Scottish Government officials, representatives from health boards, local authorities, non-government organisations, third sector organisations, and legal practitioners. (para 191)
  • The Scottish Government should examine the feasibility of extending the Free Bus Travel Scheme to allow destitute people with insecure immigration status to attend appointments. (para 94)
  • Where clinicians consider an individual with insecure immigration status has an infectious disease that requires accommodation, this should be funded by the Scottish Government as a preventative measure. (para 90)
  • The creation of a new 'Destitution Fund' by the Scottish Government for women experiencing domestic abuse unable to access other sources of help. (para 67)
  • Update the COSLA/Local Authority guidance so that local authorities dealing with people with insecure immigration status are clear on help available. (para 140). The guidance should be unambiguous about carrying out human rights assessments. (para 174)
  • Asylum seekers should have the right to do paid and unpaid community work in Scotland - allowing for better integration opportunities, supporting asylum seekers' mental and physical health, and the opportunity for asylum seekers to receive an income. (para 95)

Children's rights

Together welcomes the recommendations made on children's rights found at #166-168 and #208:

  • There is unquestionably an issue around interpretation and application of child protection legislation. We ask Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership to review its practice to ensure consistency of delivery across the Glasgow area. This should include delivery of continuous training and regular updates of social work guidance to ensure it is clear and unambiguous. We recognise the issues we heard about might be isolated incidents, or, they could be indicative of a system which is under sustained and growing pressure. Any review of service delivery should seek to ascertain the underlying reasons. It would be unfortunate if all the good work being undertaken by Glasgow was undermined.
  • Additionally, we ask all local authorities to review their training and guidance to ensure the interpretation and implementation of child protection legislation is clear and unambiguous. Local authorities should report to us on their actions one year from the publication of this report.
  • We also ask the Care Inspectorate to consider how it can contribute to better social work practice around young asylum seekers and families with children, particularly as it is unlikely these groups will complain, the Care Inspectorate should therefore take a more proactive approach to ensure standards are set and being met, as we believe with scrutiny brings awareness, consistency and action. We ask for an update on the action undertaken a year from the publication of this report.
  • We ask the Scottish Government to undertake a Scotland-wide consultation before any regulations are made to extend the Home Office regulated local authority support provision contained within Schedule 12 of the Immigration Act 2016 to Scotland in order to assess properly the impact of destitution for migrant children and families. A progress report is required within one year of the publication of this report.