When I launched the Welsh Government’s Nation of Sanctuary plan in early 2019, we made a commitment to do whatever we could to avoid destitution and reduce or mitigate the impacts of poverty for people seeking sanctuary. Part of that ambition was to look at options to support those who have been refused asylum but are unable to secure refugee status or return to their country of origin.
Today, we are publishing the findings of a feasibility study which we commissioned to look at what could be achieved within our devolved powers to identify sustainable outcomes for these individuals. Sustainable outcomes can include someone assembling their asylum case with the benefit of legal advice and achieving refugee status, submitting a fresh appeal which enables them to re-enter the asylum system, or being supported to return home to their country of origin.
The feasibility study was authored by Heather Petch – an expert in support for those refused asylum – and Tamsin Stirling – an expert in the Welsh housing sector. Together they have proposed nine recommendations for the Welsh Government and partners to take forward, with the aim of increasing the supply of informal ‘hosting’ arrangements, coupled with legal advice and appropriate safeguarding arrangements. Further recommendations seek the promotion of the Nation of Sanctuary concept across housing and homelessness sectors, developing accessibility to emergency accommodation options, and seeking to influence Home Office policy to prevent the most harmful outcomes for individuals. We intend to implement each of these recommendations, to continue our work towards becoming a Nation of Sanctuary.
We have long recognised that many asylum seekers do not have access to good quality legal advice. This is often the cause of many refused initial claims for asylum and can undermine the ability of refused asylum seekers to appeal successfully despite valid grounds. We have funded Asylum Justice since 2017, as part of the Asylum Rights Programme, to provide legal advice to those who cannot access Legal Aid, including many refused asylum seekers. However, last year we provided an additional £25000 to Asylum Justice, coupled with a further £50000 in 2020/21 to address the substantial gaps in legal advice. Advice may support a fresh asylum claim, the establishment of medical evidence or facilitate access to necessary documentation, amongst other advice. Closures of several Legal Aid solicitors in Wales in recent months has exacerbated the lack of access to timely quality immigration legal advice. We will soon commission further research to look at gaps in immigration legal advice across Wales.
Wales will benefit from an increased capacity to provide safe temporary shelter and legal advice to those who have been refused asylum and have no recourse to homelessness support or social security payments. This should only ever be a temporary arrangement for an individual to take stock of their options and decide how to proceed with the benefit of a roof over their head and timely legal advice, rather than homelessness and at risk of exploitation.
Since the feasibility study was commissioned, the plight of those who have No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) – including refused asylum seekers – has been further highlighted during the current Covid-19 pandemic. During the pandemic we have encouraged local authorities to provide accommodation to anyone who needs it, regardless of their immigration status. This is not only a moral solution – it makes good public health sense. As Covid-19 restrictions are gradually lifted, there will be a continued need to provide this type of support as homeless individuals will not be able to self-isolate without accommodation. Nevertheless, UK Government Immigration Rules mean that this type of accommodation cannot be offered in the long-term.
The adoption of the feasibility study recommendations will provide a key element of an ‘exit’ strategy to support those who have NRPF who have been brought into emergency accommodation. As the UK Government position remains unchanged, these individuals will not be able to access permanent housing until their immigration status is secured. An explicit ‘exit’ plan is therefore needed to support these individuals beyond the pandemic and the recommendations in the feasibility study provide part of such a plan.
The feasibility study recommends that we develop accessibility to emergency accommodation options and referral routes to support pathways out of destitution. We will shortly commission guidance to improve local authority understanding of the eligibility of those the NRPF to access services and what support can be offered. We will also procure training on migrant rights and entitlements as part of the EU Citizens’ Rights Project. The training will ensure front-line officers understand how to support those with a complex set of circumstances from having NRPF, to having Settled or Pre-settled status, or other forms of insecure immigration status.
This approach recognises our common humanity and seeks to provide dignity and protection from exploitation for those who have been refused asylum. Some of those supported will not have a realistic prospect of achieving refugee status and we will advise them about how to return home safely, whilst others will access the advice they have needed to evidence the persecution they have escaped. Either way, implementing these recommendations will give these individuals agency over their own lives and ensure we recognise the individual before immigration status when responding to those in need.
This statement is being issued during recess in order to keep members informed. Should members wish me to make a further statement or to answer questions on this when the Senedd returns I would be happy to do so.
Feasibility study: https://gov.wales/accommodation-refused-asylum-seekers-feasibility-study