20 June 2018
This Refugee Day, Jean Lambert MEP is urging the Home Secretary to commit to three simple, achievable acts which would improve the lives of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK.
Jean Lambert, London’s Green MEP and the Green Party’ migration spokesperson, has written to Sajid Javid calling on him to ensure that:
1. All refugees and asylum seekers have unhindered access to free NHS healthcare
2. All asylum seekers have access to the labour market
3. All refugees have access to English lessons
“On the eve of Refugee Week 2018, I was devastated to learn that at least three teenage asylum seekers in the UK have taken their own lives in the past six months.  These cases highlight just how badly the Home Office is letting down the vulnerable people who choose to seek asylum on our shores. We can, and must, do better.
The theme for this Refugee Week is ‘Simple Acts’.  I’m asking Sajid Javid to complete three simple – and entirely achievable – actions that would help people to feel supported as they rebuild their lives, and hopefully prevent such terrible tragedies in future.
The Home Secretary said he wants to put his own stamp on the Home Office.  Well, here’s his chance to do things a little differently, while making an immeasurable difference to thousands of lives.”
Read the full letter in PDF format, or below:
Dear Home Secretary,
Re: Three ‘Simple Acts’ for Refugee Week
The theme of this year’s Refugee Week is ‘Simple Acts’, encouraging us to make small changes that will positively impact the lives of refugees and asylum seekers.
In your first few months as Home Secretary, it’s encouraging to see that you’ve already taken some simple actions that will improve the UK’s asylum system – including new provisions for Afghan translators and unaccompanied minors who arrive under the Dubs amendment.
However, you could build on this progress by committing to the following three ‘Simple Acts’:
1. Access to healthcare
Firstly, the Government urgently needs to scrap its policies that block undocumented migrants, and hinder some refugees and asylum seekers, from accessing free NHS healthcare.
Under the current system, it is difficult for health professionals to accurately identify who is chargeable and who is exempt. Although refugees and most asylum seekers do not have to pay for NHS treatment, they are regularly denied healthcare or charged sky-high fees. Those who are most adversely affected are often the most vulnerable, with little understanding of their rights or requiring a translator.
Designed to tackle deliberate ‘health tourism’, which is thought to cost the NHS no more than £300m each year, this policy puts thousands of lives at risk and our medical professionals in an extremely difficult position.
The only way to clear up the confusion around this issue, and protect the health of refugees and asylum seekers, is to ditch this nonsensical and dangerous policy altogether.
2. Access to the labour market
Secondly, asylum seekers must have permission to work in the UK while their claim is being processed.
The current policy which forces these individuals to live on benefits of just £37.75 per week – one third of the income of the poorest 10% of British households – is cruel and inhumane. Not only is it deeply damaging to people’s mental health, but it increases their vulnerability to exploitation through working illegally.
Scrapping this outdated policy also makes sense from an economic perspective. A study from Warwick University has found that even if 25% of asylum seekers were employed, the Government could save £70m a year in asylum support costs.
As we approach Brexit, official government figures show that skilled EU nationals are leaving the UK in their droves – leaving many industries with a growing skills gap. Whether they are relatively unskilled or highly specialised, asylum seekers are ready and waiting to step in and fill these vacancies.
3. Access to ESOL
Finally, refugees must be provided with the help they need to learn English.
Since 2009, funding for Government-funded ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) lessons has been slashed by 55%. Many colleges and organisations that provide these classes have commented that quality is diminishing, while waiting lists have grown. In some parts of the UK, it can take up to three years for refugees to win a place in the classroom.
The Government should heed Refugee Action’s call for it to provide every refugee in the UK with a minimum of eight hours of ESOL lessons per week. This will help people to feel at home and make friends, as well as preparing them to enter the labour market and engage with their new communities.
In summary, these three simple (and entirely achievable) acts would transform life in the UK for thousands of refugees and asylum seekers. They would also benefit the UK as a whole, both culturally and economically.
As you seek to put your own stamp on the Home Office, this Refugee Week is the ideal time to commit to making these changes in the coming year.
Thank you for your kind consideration of this matter. I look forward to your reply.
Jean Lambert MEP