MPs condemn “appalling” asylum policy

MPs have robustly criticised the treatment of asylum seekers in the UK, concluding many applicants lack advice and support and the overall experience can be “inhuman and degrading”.

The joint committee on human rights concluded the asylum process is “overly complex and poorly administrated” and called on the government to undertake a comprehensive review.

In a report published today, the committee advises the government to consider how it provides financial support and accommodation and the provision of healthcare for asylum seekers. Ministers should also review the treatment of children, it recommends.

The committee also raised concerns about the policy of detaining asylum seekers as well as the impact of negative media coverage.

Commenting on the report, committee chairman Andrew Dismore said: “The system of asylum seeker support is a confusing mess, and the policy of enforced destitution must cease.

“Asylum seekers as a group do not always get the greatest sympathy from society or the media but what we have seen and heard provides very hard evidence of appalling treatment that no human being should suffer.”

Underlying the need for state assistance, the report noted: “Many asylum seekers and refused asylum seekers are vulnerable individuals who are reliant on protection and support from others. The majority usually have no right to work and are dependent on the state for access to housing, health care, food and other necessities.

Asylum seekers must be able to access healthcare based on a principle of “common humanity”, the cross party group of MPs concluded. Pregnant women should be able to access antenatal care and dying individuals should not be deported to countries without palliative care services. In the interest of public health, asylum seekers with infectious diseases should be treated.

MPs condemned the “significant increase” in the number of people detained in Britain, especially the detention of children which contravenes their right to liberty. The report recommended asylum seekers should be able to work on a “limited” basis to support themselves.

The government’s reservations towards the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child are unfounded, MPs found. Given that the convention does not undermine effective immigration controls, ministers should review their stance, the report urged.

MPs criticised negative media coverage of asylum seekers. They raised concerns hostile reporting had the potential to influence officials and government policy. The Press Complaints Committee should consider issuing practical guidelines on the coverage of asylum stories, the report added.

Responding, immigration minister Liam Byrne insisted the UK is a safe haven for asylum seekers, adding it is also necessary to protect the system from abuse.

He suggested MPs had confused asylum seekers with those whose applications had been refused. “We simply do not think that it is right that those without any right to be in the UK should be given the right to work or access other services,” he said.

The committee’s conclusions follow a report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which criticised the treatment of failed asylum seekers. It said the UK’s policy towards failed applicants “lacked human decency” and needed reforming.