On Sunday Home Secretary Priti Patel pledged to fix the “fundamentally broken” asylum system in the UK to make it “firm and fair” with the “biggest overhaul of the system in decades”. Action Foundation’s CEO Julian Prior puts forward his view that the asylum system needs a collaborative solution to prevent vulnerable people from becoming the casualties of a political brawl.

There is no doubt that changes are needed in the asylum system with 72% of asylum claims taking longer than six months for a decision, and a record high proportion of negative decisions being overturned on appeal. And when a decision on someone’s claim is eventually made, whether positive or negative, homelessness is almost inevitable due to the lack of support needed at the end of the system and the speed at which people have to move out of the accommodation provided.

Over the last year there has been a growing use of hotels by housing contractors, making asylum seekers easy targets for far-right activists.

The human cost of these problems is something that we at Action Foundation see on a daily basis as we, along with other charities and Local Authorities, do all that we can to plug the gaps in support for people when they first arrive in Tyne and Wear or when they become destitute at the end of their asylum claim. Yacine’s story demonstrates how the current system is both inhumane as well as very inefficient.

‘Home Office increasingly desperate’

However, I am sure that, like me, you have been alarmed by the ‘ideas’ put forward by the Home Office to try and address some of the many problems within the asylum system. Worrying proposals such as; outsourcing asylum decision making to the private sector, using disused ferries to house vulnerable people seeking safety or even sending people claiming asylum to a remote volcanic island in the middle of the Atlantic, all indicate that the Home Office are becoming increasingly desperate.

Whilst I have argued for decisions on asylum claims to be made by a body independent of the Home Office, I think that there is a great risk in using private sector organisations, like the ones piloting outsourced decision making, based on their fundamental need to make a profit.

‘The right thing to do’

Providing access to good quality legal advice, holistic support and decent accommodation for people who are awaiting a decision on their asylum claim, as well as giving enough time and support to move on after a decision has been made, is not only the right thing to do, but it is a more effective and efficient way of resolving their situation in a more humane and timely way.

However, this is a complex journey and one that involves many different services that need to work together in a collaborative way. This approach will help support vulnerable people to have a fair hearing and integrate successfully into their new life in the UK, or return to their home country if it is safe to do so.

Unfortunately, asylum is such a divisive issue that it is rare for such collaboration between the Home Office, Local Authorities, contracted support agencies and the voluntary sector to take place, leaving vulnerable people the casualties of a political tussle. This needs to change if we are going to have a system that is “fair” as well as “firm” not only for the individuals that are seeking safety in the UK, but also for the taxpayer.

The resettlement of over 20,000 Syrian refugees over the last five years has proven that this collaboration is possible and that there is a better way of managing these issues that involves a range of different parties working together. I would therefore echo others who have been calling for the resettlement programme to be restarted as soon as possible as well as opening up safe and legal routes to claim asylum in the UK preventing the need for desperate people to risk their lives crossing the channel in small boats.

‘Piloting an alternative’

For the last 18 months Action Foundation has been piloting a partnership with Home Office, United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Immigration lawyers and ourselves through our Action Access project providing an alternative to detention for vulnerable women.

Whilst the numbers of women benefitting from this “groundbreaking project” are small, the outcomes are encouraging and demonstrate that detention is not necessary for many people to resolve their immigration status.

UNHCR have commissioned NatCen (an independent social research agency) to evaluate the project. In their recently published inception report the project was described as a “unique partnership between the state and Civil Society” with “the potential to be at least as effective, more cost efficient and less harmful then detention in managing migration”.

We hope to build on these encouraging early outcomes to use this evidence to argue for more cost effective collaborations between the Home Office and civil society, so that any “overhaul of the system” does not use people seeking asylum as political scapegoats, but treats them as human beings with dignity and respect, resolving their cases more quickly and sustainably, whether they have a right to settle in the UK or not.

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