The last week has seen a remarkable turnaround in the public debate around asylum in the United Kingdom. Widely circulated pictures of the body of a three-year old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi compelled more than 200,000 people to sign a petition calling on the government to take its fair share of refugees. Others volunteered to take asylum seekers into their home or ferry supplies to the migrant camp known as “the jungle” in Calais.
The promptings of the collective conscience of the UK public forced the government to announce it would take in 20,000 Syrian refugees under the vulnerable person relocation scheme.
This was an extraordinary outpouring of compassion, but as the dust settles will the public debate return to the negativity of the last 15 years? Will the compassion expressed by so many extend to the those claiming asylum when they reach the UK or will it stop at the entrance to the Eurostar tunnel at Calais? Could it help to inform a new debate about how Asylum seekers are treated when they pass the white cliffs of Dover?
For migrants who have insecure immigration status, often through no fault of their own, with claims or appeals working their way through the system, the story can be bleak. Many will be unable to get help with accommodation from local authorities and most charities because they will have no right of recourse to public funds. As a result many are forced in to destitution – deliberately prevented by the system from supporting themselves.
In 2015 Commonweal began a new pilot project with the leading immigration and asylum support service, Praxis Community projects.
Under the working title No Recourse to Public Funds, the project sees Commonweal lease housing to Praxis who in turn let some of the properties to local authorities, who will use them to house destitute migrants whom they have a duty to provide accommodation to, under Section 17 of the Children’s Act as the household contains a child who would otherwise be homeless. At the same time advice is offered by specialist asylum and migration support organisations, which it is hoped may speed up the application process (saving council’s money) and improving the integration into society of those who receive a positive asylum decision . You can find out more about the project here. NRPF is its early stages and will be fully evaluated in due course by leading experts commissioned by Commonweal to capture the learning and to ascertain whether it is replicable and the outcomes desirable.
In the mean time only time will tell whether the refugee crisis of 2015 marked a step change in public attitudes towards asylum and whether through that, the systematic failures that can lead to destitution for migrants receives the public scrutiny it deserves.
Jacob Quagliozzi is External Affairs and Communications Coordinator at Commonweal Housing