Like everyone else we are trying our best to come to terms with the situation we all find ourselves in. Covid-19 affects us all.
At Scottish Refugee Council we are adapting the way we work to make sure we continue to support people in need, while at the same time, doing our bit towards helping our whole community stay safe.
We are extremely worried about what this situation could mean for the most vulnerable in our society, reaching far beyond the groups we directly support. We’re worried not just about the immediate threat of the virus but also the knock-on effects of people losing access to vital services and support.
We hope that through this uncertain time we may find a way to learn from and reconnect with each other – albeit from a distance. Change is coming, and with that comes opportunity. With many of the changes and temporary measures happening already across the country, it is clear that the safety and protection of human beings can come first.
This said, we are deeply concerned about what this could all mean for the people we support, who are already isolated, cut-off from support networks, with no money or accommodation.
In light of this, we wrote yesterday to the Scottish Government Cabinet Secretaries for Communities, Aileen Campbell, and for Health, Jeanne Freeman. This letter included some key asks of the Home Office and seeks the continuing support of the Scottish Government. We have summarised our asks below.
Travel and meetings
Avoiding public transport and meetings isn’t always possible for people in the asylum system. We call on the Home Office to ensure that people do not have to travel to Croydon to submit asylum applications.
Access to accommodation
Self-isolation and social distancing just isn’t possible for so many people who we support, as they are often homeless. Access to suitable contingency accommodation – including hotels – is urgently needed to ensure that everyone has somewhere safe to be at this time, and to be able to self-isolate with dignity. There must be no asylum accommodations evictions anywhere in the UK, given the Covid-19 public health crisis.
Destitution and financial support
Destitution is already devastating, but adding enforced isolation could be a death sentence for people with no money or no accommodation. People must be able to access asylum welfare payments at all stages in the asylum system, including those who have been refused as well as newly recognised refugees in order to prevent destitution.
Existing asylum financial support is not enough to avoid destitution, especially in these times of social isolation. All financial support should be increased to the level of any other UK resident in need.
No Recourse to Public Funds
People with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) are often homeless, so are particularly at risk of Covid-19 and fatally so given prevalence of underlying health conditions through destitution. We therefore call on the Home Office to immediately suspend the NRPF system and provide funding to ensure that destitute people have full access to health, accommodation and charitable support, with no data shared for immigration enforcement during this time.
Use of technology
As we adapt to remote working and take advantage of technological advances to ensure that our work can continue, we urge the Home Office to also use technology smartly in these times to make accelerated decisions on current asylum claims, granting protection to those from countries with high recognition rates and discretionary leave to cases which need more consideration.