A bishop has called for an overhaul of the asylum system and for asylum seekers to be given the right to work.
The call from the Bishop of Leeds, John Packer, follows the publication of major report by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, exposing a worsening crisis for refused asylum seekers with many from the most troubled parts of the world living in conditions of homelessness and destitution.
Bishop John Packer was speaking at the launch of ‘Still Destitute’, the third report by the Trust on the destitution being experienced by asylum seekers in Leeds.
The report looks particularly at the plight of 'un-returnable' refugees who had mainly fled from Zimbabwe, Eritrea, Iraq and Iran. It focussed on 232 individuals, including 30 children, who sought help from four Leeds voluntary agencies helping refugees and asylum seekers during April and May this year.
It found that more than a third of all refused asylum seekers had been homeless for more than a year, sleeping on floors or even outdoors at night. All were dependent on voluntary, charity and church groups for support and many were suffering physical and psychological ill-health as a result.
Bishop Packer said the rule preventing asylum seekers from working should be reversed and that the government's New Asylum Model was failing. It should be overhauled as a matter of urgency.
“It is important that we are aware that this is a continuing problem” he said, “particularly because one of the things to take from the report is that the New Asylum Model is not working. The Government’s assertion that it is, needs to be challenged as often as we can.
"The right to work seems to me to be the biggest single contribution that could be made to alleviate the situation."
Bishop Packer said many families were slipping through the net because, through no fault of their own, they could not return home.
"One of the most bizarre situations is that we can request people to return to countries we know are unsafe and the Government knows are unsafe and to which they cannot be returned anyway." He said children needed particular protection.
“One of the values shared by people of all faiths and none is that every individual matters. But a teacher put it to me this way: The government’s policy is that 'every child matters' unless they are the child of an asylum seeker.”
The report calls on the Government to grant temporary leave to remain for those who cannot return to their country of origin, to make continuation of support automatic until an individual leaves the UK and to ensure access to proper legal representation at all stages of the asylum process.