Peter Coltman: Asylum-seekers need urgent help to escape destitution in Britain

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As the UK Borders Agency announced plans to transfer up to 400 Nigerians to prisons in their home country the other day, we were treated to BNP proposals to "sink" boatloads of migrants.

As approaches to the asylum issue, these are a million miles apart but enough to remind us of the failure of any political group to develop a workable solution to asylum which deals effectively and sympathetically with the people and families caught inside the system.

A recent Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust report highlights the human cost of the Government failure to manage the asylum system. "Still Destitute" finds that the Government's new asylum model is not working. In fact, destitution resulting from the New Asylum Model has increased by a third since last year. Further, more than a third of refused asylum-seekers have now been destitute for more than a year and many are now suffering mental illness and malnutrition as a result.

Britain is committed by international treaty to allow those fleeing persecution to apply for asylum. The real issue for policy makers is how far – or how well – they should address this commitment. Currently, we operate a system which has made it increasingly difficult to enter Britain to claim asylum in the first place. Those who do get in face a flawed decision-making process which refuses about 80 per cent of applicants.

And yet, as "Still Destitute" shows, two-thirds of those found destitute come from extremely troubled countries where return passage often cannot be arranged – making a mockery of such decisions and leaving people in limbo. Obviously this is bad for them but it is also bad for the UK to have increasing numbers of destitute people in its cities.

We need an urgent solution which doesn't award refugee status to people who, technically, don't qualify but does give them limited leave to remain, reviewed periodically if they cannot be returned. At all stages they must have a licence to work, access to healthcare and proper legal representation.

Once these basics are there, we must create a genuinely "new asylum model" which treats people humanely, and is appropriate to the needs of refugees, the conditions in developing countries and the social health of the UK.

Peter Coltman is a trustee of the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust

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