Commitment to consider improvements for people seeking sanctuary in Scotland

scottish parliament
Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh

Scottish Refugee Council welcomes this morning’s report from the Smith Commission for further devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament.

We, along with other Scottish charities, NGOs and equalities groups, submitted proposals to the Commission last month, setting out our vision of what powers are needed to create a more fair and just society for everyone in Scotland.

We are delighted that the Commission has considered the needs of marginalised groups and in particular welcome the commitment to ensure the UK and Scottish Governments work together to make improvements to the asylum system for the small numbers of people who seek sanctuary in Scotland.

Scottish Refugee Council’s submission to Lord Smith included a number of key proposals around improvements to the asylum system which we are pleased to see within the report’s recommendations. The recommendations make clear the distinction between deciding asylum claims, which will remain at a UK level, and the welfare of those seeking asylum who are living in communities in Scotland.

The Smith Commission recommends the UK and Scottish governments need to work together to explore, with respect to asylum seekers, the possibility of:

  • different powers being in place in Scotland for asylum seekers to access accommodation and financial support and advice.
  • being able to lodge from within Scotland an asylum claim to the Home Office.
  • MSPs being able to represent directly to UK Visas and Immigration and Immigration Enforcement their concerns with respect to devolved matters affecting their constituents.

Scottish Refugee Council has long campaigned for improvements to both accommodation provision and financial support for people awaiting a decision on their asylum claims. The current set-up has forced many vulnerable people into abject destitution which is unacceptable. No transfer of legislative powers would necessarily be needed to executively devolve these issues, and again we will actively pursue constructive discussions around this.

We also believe current Home Office policy of only allowing claims for asylum to be made in Croydon, creates unnecessary hardship for individuals and is an ineffective use of resources. We look forward to seeing a change in Home Office policy which makes sure that those who have fled persecution and have arrived in Scotland can claim asylum in Scotland.

We also welcome the commitment to explore extending the temporary right to remain in Scotland for people who have identified as victims of human trafficking.

However, we are disappointed that our proposal to allow people in the asylum process the dignity and right to support themselves and their families through employment has not been take up by the Commission. Allowing people the right to work during the asylum process encourages self-reliance and helps integration to the benefit of both the individual and the local community and economy.

Finally, we welcome Lord Smith’s own recommendation that better intergovernmental relations are needed.  The rights of people in Scotland including refugees should not be negatively and unduly impacted upon by poor implementation of UK policy, lack of consultation on UK policy, or by simply by being in a different legal jurisdiction.

Read the Smith Commission report here.