Government urged to start peer support network for asylum seekers

The British Red Cross published a report into preventing extreme poverty among those seeking safety in the UK.

Government urged to start peer support network for asylum seekers iStock

The Scottish Government has been urged to set up a peer support network for asylum seekers who are facing destitution.

The British Red Cross, along with the Refugee Survival Trust, published a report on Wednesday into preventing the most extreme poverty in those seeking asylum in the UK.

Asylum seekers, the report said, often suffer worst in the first six months of their time in the UK, due to language issues, delays to support and being moved repeatedly between accommodation which makes it harder to establish support systems.

As a result, the report called on the Home Office to offer an initial grant to asylum seekers to help them set up life in the UK and lessen the likelihood of destitution.

But they also urged the Scottish Government to create a peer support network, allowing people currently going through the system to seek advice and support from someone with lived experience.

“Destitution prevents people from living a healthy life, significantly affecting mental wellbeing, which is compounded by a lack of information and support to navigate the asylum system,” said Phil Arnold, the head of refugee services in Scotland for the British Red Cross.

He added: “Across the UK, people seeking asylum have made positive contributions to their communities, and play a valued role where they live. We must listen to their voices represented in this report.

“We are therefore calling on the Scottish Government to establish and fund a pilot peer support system that will ensure new arrivals are able to access support, guidance and friendship from people who have shared experiences of navigating the asylum system.

“This must be part of a package of reforms to prevent destitution, including action from the Home Office to establish the right to work and an initial cash grant so people can purchase clothing, phones and other essential items.”

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “No-one should be made destitute because of their immigration status.

“We do not have powers to change UK Government laws on no recourse to public funds but have repeatedly raised issues affecting those seeking asylum, including destitution.

“We continue to push for the UK Government to make improvements to the way people are supported by the Home Office.

“We are taking actions where we can to improve support for people at risk of destitution.

“This includes delivering on our Ending Destitution Together strategy, which was published this year in partnership with Cosla and drew on the expertise and personal experience of the British Red Cross’s Voices network.

“We are also providing £250,000 to support a Hardship Fund co-ordinated by the British Red Cross, to provide crisis grants to people struggling to access support.”

A spokesman for the Home Office said: “The UK has a proud record of supporting vulnerable asylum seekers and ensuring they have the resources they need to settle in the UK.

“We have a statutory duty to provide accommodation to all asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute and those in dispersed accommodation where they have to cater for themselves receive an additional asylum allowance.

“Asylum seeker right to work is a complex issue and is under review. Asylum seekers are permitted to work in jobs on the Shortage Occupation List if they have been waiting for a decision on their claim for more than 12 months, through no fault of their own.

“We aim to process all asylum claims as quickly as possible and through our New Plan for Immigration are working to fix our broken asylum system so we can provide quicker support to those most in need.”

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