Concern as councils consider withdrawing from UK asylum dispersal system

Reports of council leaders considering the need to withdraw support for asylum dispersal are deeply worrying. The UK’s asylum system has many flaws but we are concerned to hear that local authorities feel so sidelined by the Home Office that they may no longer be able to receive refugees into their communities.

For almost twenty years the UK government has moved people seeking refugee protection to local authority areas across the country, most notably to Glasgow, the north west of England and the Midlands, areas where rented property is cheaper and easier to secure than in the south of England. The reception of new arrivals in these areas has not been without problems, but nor has it been without benefits. In Glasgow, for example, there are now more than 40 languages spoken in local schools. The city’s diversity and cultural richness is in large part thanks to the families and individuals who have settled here through the asylum dispersal system.

But Glasgow, like Liverpool, Manchester and Coventry, has areas of serious deprivation with local families living in poverty and poor accommodation and struggling with many of the same issues asylum seeking families face. 

Despite this, people continue to welcome refugees into their local areas, to make friends and connections and, on the whole, understand that people are here in search of safety and protection from violence and abuse.

There is no doubt local authorities are under increased pressure as a result of years of centrally imposed austerity measures. We understand council leaders’ frustrations with the asylum system, in particular the lack of direct support councils receive from central government and the lack of input they have into Home Office decisions about where, when and how many people are dispersed to their areas. The Home Office has the power and the responsibility to remedy these issues by adequately funding local authorities and establishing mechanisms to ensure their voice is heard. 

Scottish Refugee Council CEO Sabir Zazai said: “When I arrived in the UK in search of international protection almost twenty years ago, the dispersal system had just begun and I was housed in Coventry. I knew nothing about the city and little about its culture or character was familiar to me. Coventry wasn’t doing well at the time economically but the city still helped us even when it was going through its own problems. What mattered most to us as new arrivals, what really made a difference, was the local people who came to welcome us and who stood up for us. This was our first entry point to a whole new society and the companionship I found and the friends I made in those early days built the foundations for the rest of our lives in the UK.”

The fact that councils are having to consider leaving the dispersal system is evidence that the Home office needs to intervene and quickly. It should be an immediate priority for the Home Office to safeguard the continuity of the asylum dispersal system. To do this, they must establish a process of collaboration where the different agencies and communities involved in dispersal work together to help people through their asylum journey and to continue to help foster a sense of belonging and welcome. If we don't work together and get this right it will affect the process of social and economic mobility for everyone concerned.