Limitations of asylum policy exposed

1 Jun 00
Asylum seekers must be offered more than just a roof over their heads in the provinces if the government's new dispersal policy is to prove successful, according to an Audit Commission report, published this week.

02 June 2000

The commission believes the success of the policy, which came into force in April and is being phased in throughout 2000, could be hampered by inadequate local services and poor community relations.

Its report points out that London – which houses 85% of asylum seekers and refugees – and Kent are struggling to provide for destitute applicants.

Following a record-breaking 71,160 requests for asylum last year, the government hopes to alleviate the problem by getting applicants settled in multi-ethnic communities outside the south east.

However, the commission fears the dispersal plan could fail because it believes it is the availability of accommodation, and not the scope for support services, that will determine which local authority areas are chosen.

The 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act means financial responsibility for all new 'in-country' asylum seekers – except unaccompanied children – will gradually transfer from local authorities to the National Asylum Support Service (Nass), a new Home Office directorate. But it means more local authorities will become involved in developing services for asylum seekers.

Kate Flannery, associate director of the Audit Commission, said: 'Providing health care, education, translation services and legal advice could be quite a challenge for some of these authorities. 'For example, there might be no language support in schools and no interpretation services in GPs' surgeries.'

The Home Office asked the Local Government Association to introduce a voluntary dispersal initiative in November 1998. But it took a year to set up and many areas outside London still have inadequate support systems, according to the Audit Commission.

Only 12% of local authorities with social services departments have a refugee strategy, fewer than half the law firms employed by the Legal Services Commission to give immigration advice are outside London and refugee community organisations and specialist mental health services are concentrated in the capital.

The report urges the government to inject enough cash into dispersal areas for a full range of services, but it does advocate close monitoring of how services are delivered by local authorities.

It suggests local authorities should consider whether private sector sponsorship, National Lottery funding or existing regeneration programmes could provide additional resources.

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