Social workers welcome refugees to the UK – joint statement and call for action by the Association of Professors of Social Work (APSW), British Association of Social Workers (BASW), Joint University Council Social Work Education Committee (JUC SWEC) and Social Work Action Network (SWAN)
We are witnessing an almost unprecedented movement of people in the world due to political conflict. Based on the IOM and UNHCR data, an estimated 590,000 people entered the EU by the sea in the first 9.5 months of 2015. The UK government needs to respond to their plight in line with the basic principles and standards set forth in the relevant human rights instruments and frameworks of the United Nations, which hasn’t been the case to date.
We join our colleagues from the legal community in their call for action to the UK government. As a matter of urgency:
1. The UK should take a fair and proportionate share of asylum seekers and refugees, both those already within the EU and those still outside it. The UK's present offer to accept 20,000 most vulnerable Syrian refugees from outside the EU by 2020 is too low, too slow and too narrow, particularly if compared with responsibilities already placed on Middle Eastern countries such as Lebanon and Jordan. Creation of the overcrowded refugee camps in these countries will only prevent refugees from working and leading an ordinary life in the long-term. It will also do nothing to address or curb the death toll in the Mediterranean.
2. Safe and legal routes to the UK, as well as to the EU, need to be established for all refugees. Permitting travel by ordinary means will do much to halt the hazardous boat traffic and will save lives. Such routes ought to include:
Humanitarian visas – that is to say visas for the specific purpose of seeking asylum on arrival – issued in the country of departure or intended embarkation.
Resettlement schemes, accepting refugees directly from the country of persecution or from neighbouring states.
Humane family reunion policies, such as allowing child refugees in the UK to be joined by adult family members.
3. Safe and legal routes within the EU, including the UK, should be established. For instance:
A relocation scheme to take refugees from destitute conditions elsewhere in Europe;
Full suspension of The Dublin III Regulation (No. 604/2013).
4. There should be access to fair and thorough procedures to determine eligibility for international protection wherever it is sought.
As social workers, we also wish to urge the government, as a matter of urgency:
5. To ensure appropriate funding of the existing specialist support for refugees and asylum seekers and for co-ordination of volunteer community initiatives.
This should particularly apply to support for unaccompanied minors seeking asylum. In 2014, 23,160 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in the EU. This number is only to rise in 2015; according to UNICEF, a total of 110,000 children sought asylum in Europe between January and July 2015, an average of over 18,000 children every month. All unaccompanied minors need to be ensured representation, placed with adult relatives or with a foster family, ensured attempts to trace their family members as quickly as possible, and all other measures that take due account of family unity, welfare and social development of the unaccompanied minor as well as his/her health and safety and opinion when assessing the best interest of the child.
6. Abandon plans to introduce the new Immigration Act. If passed into law, the Immigration Bill will curtail asylum support for those people refused asylum who have previously been supported under section 94 (5) and Section 4(2) of the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act. This will mean people whose asylum claims and any appeals are refused and who have dependents that are minors will not be eligible to receive even the current minimum levels of support. This would clearly not be in the family’s or the child’s best interests and it impossible to see how these proposals will comply with the need to safeguard children.
7. End the Detained Fast Track (DFT). Currently, many people arriving in the UK are detained from the minute they claim asylum in the UK. The entire asylum claim is processed while they are locked in a high security immigration detention centre. People whose claims are heard from detention are not dealt with fairly and the decision to detain them is unreasonable, disproportionate and violates their right to liberty. The High Court ruled in July 2014 that the operation of the Fast Track had been so unfair as to be unlawful. Mr Justice Ouseley accepted that there were flaws in the safeguards designed to prevent vulnerable people from being wrongly fast tracked and found that the lack of adequate early access to legal advice was the crucial failing that tipped the system into unlawfulness. Furthermore, in December 2014 the Court of Appeal found that detention of appellants under the ‘quick processing criteria’ was unlawful as it failed to satisfy the requirements of clarity and transparency. The Court of Appeal issued an order requiring that the Home Office assess each appellant on the Fast Track, and only detain those who are considered at risk of absconding. We wish to urge the government to consider all appellants on the Fast Track and from suitable, community-based, accommodation.
IFSW Secretary-General, Rory Truell visited Vienna and Munich to see first hand the social work response to the refugee crisis. To read his report click HERE
IFSW’s Refugee Ticker has been set up to exchange information about the development of the refugee crisis. To view the Ticker click HERE