Torture survivors' charity says Asylum Bill will create new "social underclass."
The Asylum Bill presented today [subs: 02.09.99] in Parliament is an exercise in social exclusion that is likely to cause untold misery while doing little to fulfill Government promises of a fairer decision making process, says the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture.
The Foundation, a registered charity which each day sees some 50 torture survivors - most of them refugees - at its north London treatment centre, is particularly alarmed at plans to disperse asylum seekers out of London.
It says that a lack of training and resources will make it impossible for many agencies and authorities outside the capital to meet the medical, legal and social needs of asylum seekers who have suffered torture.
Some London councils already disperse refugees, removing torture survivors daily to locations from where they are unable to visit the Medical Foundation doctor or therapist handling their case. Frequently, they are also deprived of the kind of support provided in London by community groups of other exiles from their countries of origin.
The Medical Foundation is calling on the Government to exempt torture survivors from dispersal arrangements unless it can be clearly shown that they will receive the kind of specialist care that they need.
It says that calls to its staff for assistance from health workers and doctors outside London are already commonplace. It also warns that the provision of social and legal support for dispersed refugees is likely to prove utterly inadequate.
In a Process Manual accompanying the Bill, the Government envisages that this will rest in the hands of the voluntary sector, but no indication is given as to how that sector will be able to meet the new demands placed on it.
The Medical Foundation is also critical of the plan to replace cash benefits with vouchers, which will deprive asylum seekers of the means to meet everyday expenses such as transport, public conveniences or the occasional treat for a child.
It says this will have a dehumanising effect, robbing asylum seekers of dignity and autonomy, and placing them in a position of absolute dependency.
MF director Helen Bamber said today: "These proposals signal the birth of a new social underclass, those who have fled atrocity and persecution, only to find themselves utterly marginalised in a country that once prided itself on fairplay and decency.
"The policy of dispersal will add inexorably to the number of asylum seekers who simply "disappear" and return to London to take their chances outside the system, living with friends or whoever and working illegally. We have already seen the beginnings of this.
"The Government seeks to defend itself by saying that applicants will only be subject to these new constraints for a short time. It says that in the near future, asylum cases, and any subsequent appeal, will be dealt with in six months, but no one, not even the officials drawing up these plans, believes that target is remotely feasible.
"So much for government claims that it is to make the system fairer, faster and firmer. All we are seeing is a toughening of procedures based on the premise that there is widespread abuse of the system, a premise that inevitably fuels hostility towards refugees. The Medical Foundation, which sees more than 2,800 new clients each year, has found no evidence to back up such claims.
"Words such as 'bogus', 'abusive' and 'fraudulent' should be abandoned in favour of reasoned debate about the needs of the tortured and persecuted, as well as the contribution that refugees make to British society."