David Blunkett has tabled a last-minute package of amendments to the Asylum and Immigration Bill currently passing through parliament, including a measure forcing unpaid community work onto rejected asylum seekers who cannot be deported.
At present there are thousands of asylum seekers left in a legal limbo because their claim for asylum has been rejected but they cannot be deported because their home country remains dangerous, unstable or inaccessible. Some of these asylum seekers receive what is known as ‘hard cases’ support which gives an absolute minimum level of subsistence to those in special need. The largest group in this category, at present, is thought to be Iraqi asylum seekers, who cannot be deported to Baghdad because of ongoing security concerns. If the proposal goes ahead, these asylum seekers will be obliged to do ‘community work’ in order to receive support, although the exact nature of this work remains unspecified. Those unwilling to work will be left absolutely destitute.
The Refugee Council and the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns (NCADC) have both criticised the proposals. A statement by NCADC said: ‘It does not make sense that the Home Secretary can refuse someone asylum and then refuse to deport them to their country of origin because, in the view of the Home Secretary, it would be unsafe to do so. It makes even less sense that, if the amendment is passed, they will have to do community work to receive food and a roof over their heads.’
Also included in the package, announced last night, is a proposal for new restrictions on where asylum seekers, whose refugee claims are recognised as genuine, can settle in Britain. This means that those asylum seekers who have been dispersed away from London and the South-East will not be able to return there to obtain council housing, if they win their asylum case.
It is also proposed to withdraw income support back-payments for asylum seekers who achieve refugee status. At present, following a successful asylum claim, refugees can apply for a back-payment of the 30 per cent difference in income support they would have got if they were not asylum seekers.
Further proposed changes announced yesterday are:
- A measure that will enable appeals against the stripping of British nationality and appeals against deportation proceedings of former citizens to be heard together. This will speed up the process of deporting political Islamicist clerics with British citizenship, such as Abu Hamza, whose conduct is considered ‘seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the UK’. Under the proposed amendment, the Home Secretary will be able to order that someone’s nationality be removed at the same time as ordering their deportation.
- A requirement that foreign nationals from outside the European Economic Area, who intend to marry a UK citizen, first demonstrate that they entered the UK lawfully and have permission to stay in the UK.
- A proposal to remove appeal rights in non-asylum immigration cases when a person is refused entry to the UK on the grounds that they have failed to meet certain pre-determined mandatory requirements. For example, applications by foreign students who do not have a place at their stated college, as the rules require, will not be able to appeal.
Because these changes have been tabled so late, the relevant parts of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill will have to be sent back to Committe stage at the House of Lords for further scrutiny. The Bill has already proceeded through the House of Commons.