Before we move on, I would like to say that my thoughts and, I am sure, those of the House are with those injured in Glasgow at the weekend.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary if she will make a statement on support and accommodation for asylum seekers during the covid-19 pandemic.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for those kind words; they will mean an awful lot to my constituents.
My thoughts and those of the Home Secretary and, I am sure, the entire House are with the victims of the appalling knife attack that happened in Glasgow on Friday afternoon. I would like to pay tribute to the brave first responders who, as always, ran towards danger to protect the public. They include Police Scotland hero David Whyte, who was very sadly seriously wounded. The suspect has been named as Badreddin Abadlla Adam, a 28-year-old asylum seeker originally from Sudan. The House will appreciate that I am able to provide only limited information on this case while the investigation is under way, but I can talk about the United Kingdom’s proud history of supporting asylum seekers.
Last year, the United Kingdom made 20,000 grants of protection or asylum, one of the highest numbers of any country in Europe. We welcomed more than 3,000 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, the highest number of any country in Europe. Indeed, it made up 20% of Europe’s UASC intake.
The UK has a statutory obligation to provide destitute asylum seekers with support while their case is being considered. While asylum cases are being considered, asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute are provided with free accommodation. The utilities are paid for, council tax is paid for and free healthcare on the NHS is available. Free education is available for those with children, and there is a cash allowance to cover other essential living needs, which recently increased by 5%, considerably more than inflation. The package needs to be viewed as a whole.
During the coronavirus pandemic, we have stepped up the help available to go beyond the statutory requirements that I have just laid out. We have paused the usual practice of asking people to move on from supported accommodation when their asylum claim is decided either positively or negatively, so that they can remain in supported asylum accommodation. As a consequence of that decision, which was implemented on 27 March, around 4,000 more people are in supported accommodation than was the case at the end of March, because people are still coming into the system, but nobody is moving on. We have therefore been frantically procuring additional accommodation around the country to meet that additional need. The circumstances in Glasgow are slightly different, but I suspect we will come on to the specifics of Glasgow, so I will answer those questions in due course. That is the principal measure we have taken to ensure that people seeking asylum have been looked after and protected during the coronavirus epidemic.
Where we have procured additional hotels, we provide full-board accommodation, including laundry services, personal hygiene products and feminine hygiene products. Wrap-around services are also provided, including welfare support, healthcare and access to mental health services. Asylum seekers also have 24-hour-a-day access to assistance via Migrant Help through a freephone number.
We are working at pace to increase the available accommodation so that we can move asylum seekers from hotels into more permanent accommodation as quickly as possible, which I think we would all agree is more suitable. Efforts are currently under way to do exactly that. Over time and in due course, we will be returning to a business-as-usual approach in a phased, proportionate and careful way.
We are committed to ensuring that vulnerable asylum seekers are provided with all the support they require. As our nation has been battling coronavirus, we have continued and will continue to look after asylum seekers. We will continue to drive forward the reforms required to support those asylum seekers who are in genuine need. I commend this statement to the House.
There have been two deaths in hotel accommodation in Glasgow Central since the start of lockdown: Adnan Elbi in McLays Guest House at the start of May, and Badreddin Abadlla Adam, who was shot dead on Friday after carrying out a shocking knife attack, which left three asylum seekers, two Park Inn hotel staff and Police Constable David Whyte in hospital. My thoughts are with them and their loved ones, and my thanks go to the emergency services who so bravely and swiftly dealt with a terrifying situation.
The Minister came to the House less than two weeks ago to hear the concerns raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens). Our concerns persist. At the start of lockdown, the Home Office contractor Mears moved 321 people from initial accommodation in serviced flats across Glasgow into city centre hotels. It did not consult, as it is obliged to do, with Glasgow City Council or anyone else. Contrary to the oral and written evidence to the Home Affairs Committee by Mears boss John Taylor, those people included pregnant women, trafficked women, torture victims, family groups and vulnerable people, young people included, two of whom ended up in hospital on Friday. They were given little notice: according to the Scottish Refugee Council, one family with food on the hob and clothes in the washing machine were given half an hour to gather their belongings.
One of my constituents was a friend of Adnan, who died in McLay’s Guest House. He has faced extreme trauma because of that and has asked to be moved, but is still in that guest house two months later.
I have some questions for the Minister. First, which Whitehall source led the BBC to report that three people had been found dead, which was not true and caused a great deal of distress in my constituency? Mears has misled Committee members—elected Members—and has now admitted that no vulnerability assessments were carried out. When did the Minister find out that Mears had lied to everybody about this, and will he suspend its contract? Will he immediately reinstate the meagre £5.37 a day to allow asylum seekers a small but important degree of dignity? Will he halt any evictions while this outbreak is going on? Will he work with Glasgow City Council, organisations in Glasgow, the Scottish Government and asylum seekers themselves to return them to appropriate accommodation as soon as possible? Will he authorise an independent inquiry into asylum accommodation, which is very urgently needed? Lastly, will he take responsibility and apologise for a saga that has heaped trauma on to already vulnerable people in Glasgow and across the UK?
I thank the hon. Lady for those questions. She started by asking about the move of 321 people in Glasgow from serviced apartments into hotel accommodation, which occurred around the end of March. That was a separate process from the one I described earlier, involving the extra 4,000 places. The contractor, Mears, moved those 321 people from the serviced apartments into hotels because it was judged that, as the coronavirus epidemic took hold, the serviced apartments were not appropriate and not safe. It was done for safety reasons, and that has been entirely borne out by the subsequent statistics. Glasgow accommodates slightly over 5,000 asylum seekers, as the hon. Lady will know—many of them are in her constituency—and during the coronavirus epidemic over the last three months or so, of those over 5,000 service users, only two have tested positive for coronavirus, and both, I am pleased to say, have fully recovered. Among those people accommodated in hotels there has not been a single confirmed case of coronavirus. So the steps being taken to safeguard the public, and to safeguard the asylum seekers in particular, have been successful.
The hon. Lady asked about the plans for the future, and I can confirm that it is our plan to move people out of those hotels into more regular mainstream accommodation as quickly as possible. That was always the intention; it was only ever a temporary measure, and that applies to hotel accommodation, of course, in the rest of the United Kingdom as well as in Scotland. But I would say that these hotels are of good quality. The one involved on Friday was a three-star Radisson hotel; it was a good hotel with substantial facilities, including en suite showers for every single room.
The hon. Lady asked about evictions and whether people are being asked to move on, as would ordinarily be the case. That is currently not happening, as she knows, following the announcement on 27 March, but in due course, as life returns a little bit more to normal and now that the ban on moving home has ended, we will be returning to normal over time, but it will be done in a very careful and phased way. Nothing will be done in a rush, and I would point out that those who have successful asylum grants will actually be better off with universal credit when they move on, so it is in their interests as well.
There are a number of questions that the hon. Lady and her colleagues from Glasgow asked me in a letter dated a week ago today, 22 June. I do now have detailed answers to all those questions. I will be sending them in writing, to the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) in the first instance, in the next 24 to 48 hours, and then meeting with all Glasgow MPs who wish to meet her to go through those in detail either later this week or at the latest early next week.
May I start, Mr Speaker, by associating myself with the sympathies you offered to the people of Glasgow on this horrible attack?
I agree with my hon. Friend the Minister that we have a proud history of helping those most in need. Does he agree that those who abuse asylum make it harder for those who are genuinely vulnerable, and so can he confirm that the Home Office is committed to reforming the system, so that it can make swifter judgments and truly work for those most in need?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and he is right. Some asylum claims are meritorious—obviously, many are—and we should work quickly and humanely to grant those applications and offer help on integrating into UK society. But where there are meritless asylum claims, we need to make sure those are equally identified and rejected quickly, because it is unfair on the British public as a whole and on genuine asylum claimants if unmeritorious claims take up too much time in our system.
Let me start by thanking the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) for securing this important urgent question and the Minister for his initial response. Once again, I wish to pay tribute to the extraordinary bravery and dedication of our emergency service workers. I know that the whole House is united in sending our gratitude to PC David Whyte and our best wishes for his recovery, just as we send our best wishes for the recovery of all those injured in this tragic attack. PC Whyte was part of a policing team who responded quickly and skilfully to keep people from danger, and he and his colleagues will have our heartfelt admiration and respect. Working alongside our magnificent NHS, they were able to save lives on Friday, but this worrying incident clearly poses a number of serious questions.
We are sympathetic to the speed with which additional accommodation has had to be sought for asylum seekers, at different stages of the asylum process, in the interests of public health going into lockdown. However, this tragic attack is an important reminder of why it is vital to deliver the correct, balanced approach to housing and related support services for asylum seekers, as well as supporting the wider community. As a result, there are a number of questions I would like to ask the Minister.
At the weekend, the Home Secretary suggested that this type of accommodation had been allocated because of the covid-19 crisis. However, we know that there is an ongoing problem, which predates the crisis, of people having been housed in what is deemed to be “initial accommodation” for prolonged periods before being moved into more appropriate dispersal accommodation. Can the Minister clarify how many asylum seekers are in initial accommodation compared with the number in dispersal accommodation across the country? Will he update the House about the duration of stays for asylum seekers at the Park Inn hotel in Glasgow? Will he share with the House what vulnerability and risk assessments the Home Office and service providers are currently conducting when placing people in asylum support accommodation, in order to ensure that people have the support they need, including access to mental health support? Finally, what work is being undertaken to identify the risk factors that could have been spotted in this attacker, and how will that change future practice?
I thank the shadow Minister for her question. I should take this opportunity to welcome her to her place, and I look forward to many exchanges across the Dispatch Box in the months and, perhaps if we are lucky, years ahead. She asked about the numbers of people being supported in asylum accommodation. We currently have 44,000 people being supported under section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 and some 4,000 people being supported under section 4; pre-coronavirus, we had about 48,000 people supported. The number has increased dramatically in the past four or five years—it has almost doubled in that period—so we are growing our asylum accommodation estate in order to cater for that growth. Of course, we are trying to get people into dispersed accommodation—the more stable accommodation—as much as we can. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell) alluded to in the previous question, the more we can make sure we can look after meritorious claims quickly but dismiss unmeritorious claims, the less pressure there will be on asylum accommodation in the first place.
Every asylum seeker is subjected to a risk assessment, on health and on other grounds, at the point of receipt into the system. I do not want to comment too much on this individual’s case, but when he first made one of his asylum claims—he made two—he flagged a health vulnerability, but it was a minor physical vulnerability, not anything that could have had anything to do with what happened on Friday. I assure the hon. Lady that those assessments do take place and there are round-the-clock facilities for asylum seekers to report any health or any issues that they may have.
I thank the Minister for his answers thus far. Clearly, he is right to extol the virtues, which we in this country hold dear, of extending our hands and arms to those who are fleeing and who are extremely vulnerable. Many of them will have come from war-torn areas of the globe. Some of them will be dangerous to other asylum seekers and the British public, so what measures will he look at to assess those individuals’ risk of violence towards the British public and other asylum seekers?
My hon. Friend, as always, makes a very good point. As I said in response to the shadow Minister a moment ago, risk assessments take place at the point of arrival and on an ongoing basis. I assure him that with asylum seekers, whenever UKVI identifies risk to others, appropriate action will always be taken. Everybody’s vigilance will be elevated to even higher levels after the incident on Friday.
This was a devastating incident, and we, too, wish all six who are in hospital a full recovery. We pay tribute to Constable Whyte and his colleagues in the emergency services for their bravery. Our thoughts are also with the wider asylum community in Glasgow.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) is absolutely right; there must be an independent inquiry, because huge questions persist as to why there was a mass move to hotels, how it was implemented and the extent to which vulnerabilities were or were not assessed. A huge gap has grown between the system that the Minister describes and reality as it has been described to us by people working on the ground.
For now, our focus must be on supporting people, so will the Home Office contribute funding for vital counselling and other support? Will the Minister reinstate even the pitiful cash support for individuals who are still in hotels? Will he ensure that the exit strategy is shared and consulted on with Glasgow City Council and other key partners? Will he maintain the pause in evictions? Will he speak to the leader of Glasgow City Council—a vital partner—as well as the Scottish Government? Finally, will he acknowledge that people are angry about what has happened, and that there are concerns that the Home Office’s approach to the asylum system has become so hands-off that it risks becoming a Cinderella service?
The hon. Gentleman asked whether we would have discussions with Glasgow City Council about the ongoing asylum accommodation estate in that fine city, and of course we will. I believe that discussions took place this afternoon—in the last two or three hours—between Home Office officials and Glasgow City Council on the very topic of moving people out of hotels and into more stable accommodation.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned healthcare. Healthcare for asylum seekers, wherever they may be in the country, is taken care of by the local NHS or, in the case of Glasgow, by the Bridge Project, which is co-ordinated by Glasgow City Council. I have every confidence in the service that Glasgow City Council and the NHS in Scotland provide.
The hon. Gentleman asked about meeting Glasgow City Council, and I would be very happy to meet the leader of Glasgow City Council at any time. As I mentioned, I will be meeting Glasgow MPs, if not later this week, certainly next week. On the question of restarting move-ons, I have been very clear that as the country returns to normal, so we would expect the asylum system to return to normal. In a measured, phased and careful way, we will return to the system as it was before, which worked extremely well, but we will be extremely thoughtful in the way we do that.
What marks a society out is how we treat our most vulnerable. I believe that the UK has a strong track record and should be proud of being one of the few countries during the covid lockdown still to take in unaccompanied minors. However, I am concerned about what happens next year if we do not have replacement schemes in place. Can my hon. Friend give me assurances that those schemes will continue next year, especially for unaccompanied minors and for family reunion?
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to our extremely proud record. I have already referred to the fact that we took in more unaccompanied asylum-seeking children last year than any other European country. We also took in some Dublin children during the coronavirus epidemic. About six or eight weeks ago, we took in a number of them from Greece who had been accommodated in the camps. We were pretty much the only European country allowing Dublin returns of that kind during coronavirus, which says a great deal about this country’s proud track record.
In terms of the future, clearly we are in the process of negotiation at the moment. An amendment to the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill on Report tomorrow has been tabled but, as required by statute, the Government are negotiating with the European Union in good faith to secure a replacement agreement for Dublin, to allow the reciprocal reunification of unaccompanied children—in both directions. A few weeks ago, we tabled a detailed legal case to facilitate that, and more negotiations are happening this week, I believe. I am sure that all of us in this House hope that those negotiations on a reciprocal basis are successful.
We will debate those issues tomorrow. It is important that there are guarantees that young people can join family who are here and who can care for them, whatever reciprocal arrangements are in place.
May I ask the Minister specifically about support for asylum accommodation? I join with you, Mr Speaker, and Members across the House in sending our best wishes to those affected by the awful incident in Glasgow. The Home Affairs Committee has been told repeatedly of serious concerns about asylum seekers being left in hotel accommodation for long periods and about the rushed move of so many people into hotel accommodation in Glasgow during the crisis. Given that the Minister must have been asked about and consulted on those moves of people into hotel accommodation, why did he not consider providing additional financial support—otherwise it is withdrawn from people in hotel accommodation —that they could have used for things such as hand sanitation, additional food needs or basic provisions that they could not get?
The reason for the rapid move, which we discussed earlier, around about the end of March, was the unsuitable conditions in the serviced apartments. That is why those 321 people were moved. As I said, it has been successful in that not a single one of the people moved into hotels in Glasgow has tested positive for coronavirus.
The right hon. Lady asked about the financial element. When someone is in dispersed accommodation or a serviced department, they get the allowance, which is principally to cover food and some other essentials. When they move into a hotel, all those things like food, the hand sanitiser she referred to, hygiene products, laundry services and so on are provided by the hotel, removing the need for the cash grant.
I, too, associate myself with your remarks at the start of the debate, Mr Speaker, to the people of Glasgow and the victims of last week’s atrocious act. This Government have been committed to supporting asylum seekers and children. What steps will the Minister’s Department take to assure councils of future support mechanisms for children?
Looking after unaccompanied asylum-seeking children is extremely important. As a Member of Parliament representing Croydon, which has either the highest or second highest number of UASCs, I have seen at first hand how much care and support they often need. My hon. Friend asked about support for councils doing that. He may be aware that a few weeks ago, earlier in June, we announced a substantial increase in the funding for councils looking after unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and care leavers. Councils with the largest number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children will get a 25% increase in their funding this year. All councils with care leavers will get increases of between 20% and 60% in their funding, which is a powerful demonstration of this Government’s commitment to ensuring that children are properly looked after.
I, too, associate myself with your remarks earlier, Mr Speaker, about our sympathy being with the people of Glasgow and in particular our admiration for Constable Whyte. I also associate myself with the remarks made by the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), particularly when she talked about the concerns that had already been expressed—the mental health concerns—by the Scottish Refugee Council and others about the conditions in which asylum seekers are being asked to live. Will the Minister consider a full public inquiry into what happened in Glasgow, so that, as we move away from what are, as he acknowledges, abnormal conditions at the moment—including the dreadful conditions we have seen in Glasgow —we can start to treat and look after asylum seekers in a much more acceptable manner that allows them their dignity and to be regarded as people who can contribute to society?
There is currently a police investigation under way, so the right thing is to wait for the outcome of that investigation by Police Scotland before making any further comment. On the conditions that asylum seekers live in, as I have said, this country has an extremely proud history of looking after asylum seekers. We look after them much better than many, if not most, other European countries, with free accommodation, council tax paid for, utilities paid for, NHS treatment provided free, education provided for those with children, and a cash allowance in addition. I am proud of our record and am very happy to defend it.
I also echo your comments, Mr Speaker, and my thoughts are with everyone in Glasgow impacted by the incident.
Wolverhampton City of Sanctuary have been doing great with asylum seekers throughout the covid-19 pandemic and have been brilliant at making sure everyone is connected with each other during this difficult time. At the end of the pandemic, will my hon. Friend come and meet them to see the great work they are doing in Wolverhampton?
I congratulate my hon. Friend and the fine city of Wolverhampton on their work. It sounds like they are setting an example to the rest of the country in how to manage this matter with compassion and sensitivity. I would of course be delighted to learn more about the work that he and his colleagues on Wolverhampton City Council are doing.
On behalf of the DUP, I associate my hon. Friends and myself with the comments about the events in Glasgow. All of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are united in support of those who need help.
I have highlighted in the past to the Minister the discrepancy whereby those who are reliant on the welfare system have seen just a temporary rise of 26p. They do not understand, and to be truthful neither do I. I know he wants to help, which is very important, but what additional help and support is available at this time of fear, especially for those who do not understand the system, so that they can source all the financial assistance they need to survive?
I say again that the cash amount, which went up by 5%, is only one small part of the support package, which includes free accommodation, council tax paid for, utilities paid for, free healthcare and free education. One has to look at the package in the round. He asked rightly about the advice and assistance available to migrants. There are helplines available through Migrant Help and other organisations via free phones available in these hotels and other places of accommodation, so that where they need assistance and advice they can access it. Of course, asylum seekers are also eligible for the more general support available to the whole of society via local authorities, which have received £3.2 billion to assist those in need at this time of national difficulty.
Through our aid spending, the British people play a leading role in supporting millions of refugees all over the world, including through the £2.8 billion we have committed in response to the Syria crisis. Does my hon. Friend agree that aid spending in conflict zones goes an enormous way to stopping people needing to seek asylum and reducing the trade of people traffickers?
My hon. Friend is right. Every pound that we spend helping vulnerable people in a conflict zone can help far more people, and often those people are more vulnerable than those who come to the UK. Our money is most effectively spent in those conflict zones, which is why we are the only G7 economy to spend 0.7% of GNI on overseas aid, why we are the second biggest donor in the Syria region, and why we help so many people. I think our aid budget is the biggest or the second biggest of any European country. That is a measure of this country’s passion. It is through that programme that we can help the largest number of people in need.
Can my hon. Friend confirm that maintaining law and order and keeping the British public safe remain this Government’s top priority? Can he confirm that our asylum policy will always be in keeping with that ethos?
Yes, I can categorically confirm that. The safety of our citizens is this Government’s highest priority. Where people, including asylum seekers, commit very serious offences, we will take appropriate action through the criminal justice system. But if someone who has been granted asylum commits a very serious offence, we are able, consistent with the refugee convention, to seek to remove that person. If somebody comes here and accepts our welcome and our hospitality but then commits a very serious criminal offence, endangering the public, it is right that that person should be eligible for removal, as allowed by the law.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for your kind words to the people of Glasgow. It was a tragic and horrific scene, and it was a traumatic experience for those injured and those caught up in it who were living in the hotel, many of whom have had traumatic experiences in their lives, coming from war-torn countries or as trafficked women. I thank the Minister for committing to a meeting—the quicker the better, as far as I am concerned. I ask this question in general terms, not about the incident on Friday. Can he confirm what Mears confirmed in a press conference on Thursday morning: that those who were placed in hotel accommodation did not have a vulnerability risk assessment? Does he think it is right that trafficked women have been in hotels for 12 months?
The 321 people moved into hotel accommodation in Glasgow have been there for around three months. As I said, work is under way, including this afternoon, between Home Office officials and Glasgow City Council to get them moved back into more regular accommodation as soon as is logistically possible. In terms of risk assessments, I mentioned before that all asylum seekers are interviewed at great length, including about various vulnerabilities, at the point when their asylum claim is made. In terms of ongoing vulnerability assessments, perhaps when people are being moved from A to B, I will have to look into that and get back to the hon. Gentleman.
People make Glasgow, and our city remains united in wanting to give the warmest of welcomes to those who choose to make their home among us, but what asylum seekers have experienced during this pandemic is the hostile environment at its absolute worst. The Minister speaks of welcome and hospitality, but the 5% increase he talks of is 26p a day, and that has been withdrawn from the people who have been moved into hotel accommodation. Surely the way to respect their dignity and extend a welcome to asylum seekers is to extend the right to work to them, so that they can contribute to our society in the way that they want to.
I do not for one moment accept the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that there has been anything hostile in the environment extended to asylum seekers. As I have said several times, but I will say it again, in case he did not hear it, those who come here are given free accommodation, with council tax paid for and utilities paid for, free healthcare, free education and a cash allowance. During the coronavirus crisis, the ordinary operation of the asylum system, where people get asked to move on when their case is decided, has been suspended for the time being. That, in my view, is a compassionate and generous response, and I do not see any reasonable basis for criticising it.
Every loss of life is a tragedy, and any crime perpetrated by people coming to these shores is a disaster, but does my hon Friend agree that we must not allow a few bad experiences to turn us into a mean-spirited country and that we should be doing more to support those who come to these shores? To echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South West (Stuart Anderson), the work of my local Flintshire City of Sanctuary in creating a culture of welcome and inclusion is exactly the approach we should be taking. Will my hon. Friend look further at what can be done in that area?
The sound was a little intermittent, but I think I got the gist of my hon. Friend’s question. I can confirm that we will always seek to extend a welcome to those who are genuinely in need of protection. That is why last year we gave around 20,000 grants of asylum or protection, and of course we want to welcome those people and help them integrate into our society and make a meaningful contribution, as all of us want to. Where there are risks to public safety, we will naturally seek to take robust action to defend the safety of the British public.
My constituent fled Syria. He is fragile but he felt safe until the Mears Group told him that he had 30 minutes to be moved to an unknown location because of lockdown. Far from offering the health support that the Minister has described in this utopia he keeps on about, that approach took my constituent right back to the traumatic state he was in when he first fled. We in Glasgow are sick of people being treated like this. What is the Minister going to do, not say, about it, because it is happening under his watch?
The hon. Lady asked about moves at the beginning of the coronavirus epidemic and, as I have explained, that was done for reasons of public health and public safety. I will not apologise for taking steps at the beginning of this very serious health epidemic to protect the health of all the public and of asylum seekers in particular. As I have said, there have been no confirmed coronavirus cases among people living in Glasgow hotels, so that approach has worked.
I am delighted to say that my constituency of Stoke-on-Trent Central has welcomed many asylum seekers in the past, but does the Minister recognise that areas such as Stoke-on-Trent face huge and increasingly strained demands on our local support networks and that the capacity is not unlimited?
Yes, I do accept what my hon. Friend says. I know that Stoke-on-Trent does a great deal already, for which all of us, I am sure, are very grateful. There are, of course, natural constraints to how much any given city can do, and one of the reasons that I will speed up the whole asylum process is to alleviate exactly those pressures.
Refugees and asylum seekers in the UK are here because their lives are at risk elsewhere and they need a temporary safe haven. Most live here peacefully and without issue for a period of time, but can the Minister clarify how information on those asylum seekers who may pose a threat to themselves and others is shared between the Home Office, councils, and health, police and security services?
As the hon. Gentleman will understand, whenever a risk is identified, it is rapidly shared between all relevant organisations, including those that he listed. He mentioned providing sanctuary. Of course, many asylum seekers who reach here have travelled through safe countries first, particularly France, and it is appropriate for people seeking asylum to do so in the first safe country they get to.
I associate myself with your comments earlier, Mr Speaker, and pass on my best wishes to those who have been sadly affected.
Does my hon. Friend agree that this appalling attack underlines the importance of reforming our asylum policy so that we can stop it being abused with false claims and ensure that those who pose a significant threat to our way of life have their claims rejected and are swiftly deported?
My hon. Friend is right. The system is too slow. It is too slow to grant meritorious claims, but it is also, I am afraid to say, open to abuse with repeated unmeritorious appeals, which often drag the process out over many years. Reform is needed along the lines that he describes and it is something on which we are working.
Those of us who represent Glasgow are utterly horrified at the Minister’s tone deaf remarks about how lovely these hotel rooms are. I ask him whether he could stay in one hotel room for several weeks during lockdown. I am afraid to say that the Government have been posted missing on the issue of asylum accommodation in Glasgow, which many of us in the city have been jumping up and down about for several months. What is needed from the Government is an intensive engagement strategy with public bodies such as the council, the health service and the third sector. Given that no Minister has even met the leader of our city council since the Government came into office, will he implement an intensive engagement strategy now?
I look forward to meeting Glasgow MPs next week and the leader of Glasgow City Council shortly.
I am generally reassured that asylum seekers receive the necessary support, but it is clear that the process of coming illegally to the UK is fraught with danger. Are we doing enough to disincentivise migrants from making the perilous journey and to bring people traffickers to justice?
My hon. Friend is right. As I said a few moments ago, people should claim asylum in the first safe country that they reach, which very often is not the United Kingdom. Many of the arrivals here have travelled through Italy, Germany, France or many other manifestly safe European countries. They should claim asylum in one of those countries first. They should claim asylum in the first safe country they arrive in. Many of the people who cross the channel on small boats, for example, are facilitated by ruthless and dangerous criminals. We are cracking down on those, prosecuting them and arresting them. We are determined to stop dangerous illegal entry to the country.
Glasgow is a city that prides itself on welcoming asylum seekers and refugees. Since the shocking events on Friday, Glaswegians have, in typical fashion, voiced their support for the vulnerable people, including families, who were dumped in hotels at the start of lockdown. The Minister has talked about the generosity of the support package, but he must acknowledge that human beings need other things: they need human interactions and the love of their community. They need to feel whole. In May, a Syrian refugee was found dead in a hotel room after reporting that he was struggling with his mental health. The Home Office must have warning systems in place. What are they, and why are they not working like they should?
The case that the hon. Lady refers to is the subject of an ongoing investigation, so we will see what the result of that investigation is in due course. I mentioned earlier that there are 24-hour mechanisms for anyone in asylum accommodation who feels like they are experiencing difficulties to report them, and there are health interventions that can then be followed up.
On the hon. Lady’s more general point about support, many people—asylum seekers and members of the general public—have experienced feelings of distress and isolation during the coronavirus lockdown. That is one of the burdens that we have had to collectively bear as a society in the past few months, but we are thankfully now moving beyond that.
To follow up the question posed by my good friend the Member for Blackpool tower and the winter gardens—my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South (Scott Benton)—how long after someone’s application to remain has been rejected is it on average before that person leaves our shores?
That varies a great deal, depending on the circumstances of the individual and the circumstances in their home country. I think it is fair to say, however, that the majority as matters stand do not end up leaving. If somebody’s asylum claim is rejected, and once the relevant appeal processes have been exhausted, it is only fair to the British public generally, and indeed to people who claim asylum successfully, that we ultimately ensure removal; otherwise, it makes a mockery of our immigration system.
My thoughts are with those injured in the horrendous attack in Glasgow. I commend the bravery of PC Whyte and the officers who moved towards danger in order to protect the public.
Research shows that asylum seekers are five times more likely to experience mental health problems than the rest of the population. I feel that the Home Office’s use of hotels and temporary accommodation is making those problems much worse. Will the Minister commit to an urgent funding package of mental health support for asylum seekers in Glasgow and further afield to ensure that they can recover from this traumatic incident? Does he recognise that they should be treated with dignity and respect?
of course I agree that everybody should be treated with dignity and respect, including asylum seekers. On the health support package, I said earlier that it is provided by the local NHS and, in this case, also by Glasgow City Council and I know that it is doing its job effectively.
I associate myself with your kind works of support for everyone affected by this incident, Mr Speaker. I want to ask specifically about the number of asylum seekers in supported accommodation who are from Sudan. Will the Minister convey to his colleagues in Government the welcome for the announced pledge to support the Government of Sudan in their transition to democracy, which came through last week?
I know that my hon. Friend has done a great deal of work in this area. The best way to make sure that people are safe and secure is to ensure that the situation in their home countries is stable and safe—that there are democratic Governments and the economies prosper. That is ultimately the way to make sure that people are safe and secure, and this Government are committed to doing that.
Hull is a city of sanctuary. For a number of years, I have convened a roundtable of voluntary and statutory agencies to look at issues around asylum and refugees in the city, including, before covid-19, the use of hotels. One of the issues raised about housing asylum seekers in hotels with no financial support is that if they need an aspirin or a plaster, they end up going to A&E at the local hospital because they do not have the money to buy these everyday essentials. Surely that cannot be right and it is not in the interests of anybody to have those asylum seekers in our A&Es. Will the Minister look into this?
Hotel accommodation is obviously not the preferred way to accommodate asylum seekers. I am speaking from memory, but I think that, prior to coronavirus, fewer than 1,000 people were accommodated in hotels, so less than 2% of the total. As I said, we are looking to unwind the hotel accommodation as quickly as logistics allow. In relation to the provision of basic things like plasters, there are typically welfare officers on hand in these hotels. I will investigate whether they have those sort of supplies available, because the hon. Lady is certainly right that those things should be available in the hotels.
In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am now suspending the House for three minutes.