As the #socialworkconvoy gets under way, Swan releases its official statement and call for action regarding the needs of refugees across Europe.
Here, you will find that our intention is to continue highlighting the need for more humane and responsive social policies from the UK government. As social workers expected to deliver such policies, we will lead the call for change.
SWAN statement and a call for action – help and support for refugees in UK and in Europe
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 refugees (labeled as migrants) entered the EU by the sea in the first 9.5 months of 2015.[i] Due to the approaching winter months, there is an urgent need to respond to their plight appropriately, 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[ii]. As a matter of urgency:
- The UK should take a fair and proportionate share of 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 by 2020 is too low, too slow and too narrow.
- 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.
- 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;
- A suspension of the ‘Dublin’ system, save for the purpose of family reunification.
- There should be access to fair and thorough procedures to determine eligibility for international protection wherever it is sought.
Additionally, the government should also ensure, as a matter of urgency:
- Appropriate funding of 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.[iii] 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.[iv] 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.
- Abandon plans to introduce the new Immigration Act. If passed into law, the Immigration Bill will remove section 95 of the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act. This will mean people whose asylum claims and any appeals are rejected and who have dependents that are minors will not be eligible to receive even the current minimum levels of support. Such plans create serious safeguarding issues or place additional burdens for local authorities to provide such families with support under section 17 duties under the 1989 Children Act – all while facing severe budget cuts due to austerity measures.
- 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 wit 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[v]. We wish to urge the government to consider all appellants on the Fast Track and from suitable, community-based, accommodation.