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Asylum Seekers

Volume 776: debated on Tuesday 1 November 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to improve the integration of asylum seekers granted refugee status.

My Lords, the Government are working towards achieving more integrated communities and creating the conditions for everyone to live and work successfully alongside each other. Those granted refugee status are given access to the labour market and benefits and encouraged to access organisations that can assist with integration.

My Lords, one of the biggest obstacles to integration is the destitution faced by too many refugees because they are not given enough time to transition from asylum support to mainstream support. It is nearly eight months since the Government pledged to review this. With winter coming and universal credit throwing up new problems, will the Minister and the DWP now treat this as a matter of urgency to prevent further avoidable destitution and homelessness and as a first step in reintroducing a comprehensive strategy for the integration of refugees, following the example of Scotland and Wales?

My Lords, the Government have introduced a number of initiatives to prevent homelessness such as the No Second Night Out programme, but recognised refugees are also encouraged to work with the independent charity, Migrant Help, which can assist with integration into the UK. It provides individuals with the resources and support they need to access the appropriate services and information and gain greater independence. In addition, the Home Office announced a new £10 million funding package to boost English language tuition for those arriving under the vulnerable persons’ resettlement scheme.

My Lords, in its report Let Refugees Learn, Refugee Action states that,

“more than any other factor”,

English language is a “key driver” towards the “successful integration” of refugees. With long waiting lists and a shortage of teaching hours, does the Minister agree that we need a national strategy for the teaching of English and will she say what has been done since the Prime Minister rightly said in September that the Government would provide more language support?

I totally agree with the noble Lord. A person who comes to this country unable to speak the language has difficulties with everything from making a doctor’s appointment to inquiring about their children’s education in school. The additional language funding that I spoke about earlier will mean that all adults arriving through the scheme anywhere in the UK will receive an extra 12 hours a week of tuition for up to six months.

My Lords, following the Minister’s earlier reply, can I take it that the rule that does not allow asylum seekers to work for the first 12 months they are here is to be revised? Will they be able to earn a living before then? Also, will the deportation of so many of our young asylum seekers when they reach the age of 18 come to an end?

My Lords, the Question refers to those who have been granted refugee status, as opposed to those seeking asylum at that point. I think the noble Lord is talking about a different matter.

My Lords, will the Government make a special effort to help women immigrants and refugees learn English? Women are often isolated by being unable to speak the language.

The noble Lord is absolutely right for all the points I made in replying to the noble Lord, Lord Alton. Women are often the bedrock of family life and their children’s future. I think it was earlier in the year that the former Prime Minister announced the setting up of a fund for women to learn English to help them integrate well into British society and to help their children.

My Lords, the other day I asked the Minister if she could assure your Lordships that those local authorities that are taking people in will be given extra financial help by the Government. Will they continue to receive that help continuing over time or will it be time-limited? If we want to see integration into communities that wish to be helpful and charitable by taking people in, it will not help if they feel that the expense of the services they provide—schools, hospitals and so on—is not supported by continuing additional help over time.

The noble Baroness made a valid point the other day, as she does now. I take the opportunity to thank local authorities for their good will and their efforts to accommodate asylum-seeking children, many of whom have arrived in recent weeks. On funding, as part of the safeguarding strategy we have committed to regularly reviewing the funding for the support and care of unaccompanied asylum-seeking and refugee children, working closely with the LGA and local authorities. We have increased funding from just over £34,500 to £41,000 a year for those aged up to 16. Those rates underpin the introduction of the national transfer scheme.

I have to confess to my noble friend that I have no idea how many languages are involved, but I can find out for her.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that any civilised society is judged on how it treats those most in need? Is it not therefore unacceptable that refugees and others who are destitute have to rely on charitable organisations?

My Lords, we are all doing our bit to help. With the agreement of the French, we have been in France helping to process some of the claims of people coming over to this country. If people, particularly asylum-seeking refugees, are to integrate into this country, we must, as the noble Lord says, make them welcome and all do our bit to help.