Chronic delays in the asylum system that are causing untold distress to vulnerable migrants have been highlighted in a parliamentary debate led by Stockport’s MP.
Navendu Mishra opened the Westminster Hall debate into ‘Delays in the asylum’ and challenged the Government Minister to respond to the chronic failings, which has seen tens of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers stranded in the system for months and forced to survive on little more than £5 a day.
Mr Mishra also pushed the Government to explain why the Aspen card system – a debit payment card given to asylum seekers by the Home Office to provide basic subsistence support via a chip and pin system – has seen failings which have led to recipients going 48 hours without receiving any money at all and forced to live off what little means they have.
Speaking in the debate, Mr Mishra said: “The bottom line is that the current pandemic has exposed the harsh reality that asylum seekers cannot themselves be safe under these restrictive rules. Far from being looked after, they are forced to depend on tiny handouts each day and choose between food, medicines, and hygiene products. All the while being prevented from the dignity of work.”
Mr Mishra called on the Government to adopt the UN Human Rights Council’s proposals to reform the registration, screening and decision-making process, which include measures to introduce an effective triaging and prioritisation system, as well as simplified asylum case processing, and frontload the asylum system to enable more information to be gathered earlier in the process.
Urging the Government to act and show more compassion he said: “It is time our Government stopped its gunboat diplomacy and treated asylum seekers with the dignity and humanity that they deserve. When most are fleeing war torn countries that the UK has played a role in devastating, it is surely the very least that we can do.”
Mr Mishra also criticised the “unfair dispersal system” which sees the majority of asylum seekers housed in disadvantaged local authority areas, with dozens of councils providing no support at all. Figures have shown that more than half of those seeking asylum or have been brought to Britain for resettlement are accommodated by just six per cent of local councils, all of which have below average household income.
However, Mr Mishra made clear how proud he was that the North West was leading the way in its support as the largest asylum dispersal conurbation in the UK, housing 25 per cent of all applicants, with 70 per cent of those based in Greater Manchester.
Data provided by the House of Commons Library has revealed that 138 asylum seekers are based in Stockport and more than 6,000 in Greater Manchester as a whole – two thirds of the total number in the North West region.
Mr Mishra also paid tribute to the work of the many organisations and individuals across Stockport and Greater Manchester who provide vital support to those seeking asylum in the region.
He said: “There are so many more who are also worthy of recognition for the incredible work that they do; such as Councillor Wilson Nkurunziza, Councillor Irfan Syed, and Stockport’s own Mrs Sandy Broadhurst.
“In my region, Refugee Action Manchester and the Refugee Council provide life-saving (and life-changing) support to asylum seekers, while Stockport Baptist Church in my constituency has done so much over the years to help raise funds to provide accommodation, food, pocket money and transport to those in need.
“I am also grateful to volunteers from the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit who support incredibly vulnerable people that are subject to immigration control. Significantly, they have worked with local authorities across Greater Manchester, and seven of the ten councils have now signed up to remote asylum interviewing for their looked after children – Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, and Wigan.
“It is heartwarming to see how my community has embraced them and helped to integrate them into the community.”