Torture victims and vulnerable women were among hundreds of asylum seekers forced to make 400-mile round trips from Scotland to England to make fresh claims for sanctuary in the UK.
Over the past two years, a Scottish charity helping destitute asylum seekers called Refugee Survival Trust (RST) has given out 570 grants to people in desperate financial situations, so they can travel from Scotland to Liverpool for appointments with the Home Office.
Up until four years ago, asylum seekers were given appointments with the Home Office in Glasgow. But that suddenly changed in 2015 following the introduction of the UK government’s ‘hostile environment’ immigration policy.
Highlighting a sharp rise in travel grants – there were just 10 for Liverpool in 2015 – RST said that the level of demand was “unsustainable”.
The charity also questioned why asylum applications cannot be dealt with in Scotland, as happened previously. RST has been supported by other critics of the UK government’s stance on immigration who described Home Office policies as “malevolent” and “inhumane”.
The UK government’s hostile environment on immigration was an idea put forward by Prime Minister, Theresa May, in 2012 when she was Home Secretary. May reportedly said at the time: “The aim is to create, here in Britain, a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants.”
Since then the Home Office has been condemned for some of its policies including accusations that officials have conducted racial profiling in Glasgow, recently reported by The Ferret.
In Scotland, this has severely impacted asylum seekers. They must travel to Liverpool, or sometimes London, to submit fresh applications when previously they could do this in Scotland.
RST said it was not advised why government policy changed in 2015 so that asylum seekers must now travel to Liverpool.
The charity’s 570 travel grants were provided between April 2017 and March 2019. From April 2018 to March 2019, RST spent £20,000 to get 272 people from Scotland to Liverpool.
Zoë Holliday, who works for the charity, expressed a number of concerns. “Firstly these are only statistics for the people that RST has supported travelling from Scotland. How many other charities are taking up the slack all over the United Kingdom?” she said.
“Secondly, how many people, not knowing that some charities can provide this support, don’t travel at all to important appointments in Liverpool that could change the outcome of their application?
“Thirdly, how many people compromise themselves in order to find the funds for the tickets? Fourthly, this is a long and confusing journey in a foreign country or language. We know that many people have to travel – and sometimes have lengthy stopovers – in the night in order to get to their appointments on time.”
The safety of the individuals travelling was also “a prime concern”, Holliday argued. In an age of technology it made “absolutely no sense” that submissions and evidence could be taken in Glasgow, she said.
The Scottish Refugee Council (SRC), which administers RST travel grants, also condemned Home Office policy. Wafa Shaheen, head of integration at SRC, said it was “outrageous” to expect people with “very limited or no means of financial support” to make the round trip from Glasgow to Liverpool.
“But this has been the reality since 2015. Before this, people were able to submit further evidence to support their asylum claims to Home Office representatives in Glasgow and we have never understood why that policy was changed,” Shaheen added.
She continued: “People in this position are in Glasgow in the first instance because of the Home Office’s no-choice dispersal system. They may be destitute and will certainly have spent a long, difficult period of time coping with serious insecurity and anxiety about their futures.
“Requiring people to make this journey forces them to rely on charity and goodwill to find the money for a bus ticket. It can be confusing, stressful and disorientating for people and we know several clients who have been asked to make the journey more than once.”
It can be confusing, stressful and disorientating for people and we know several clients who have been asked to make the journey more than once. Wafa Shaheen, Scottish Refugee Council
Asylum seekers forced to travel from Glasgow to Liverpool include severely traumatised people being counselled by Freedom from Torture at its only Scottish centre, based in Glasgow. Freedom from Torture helps people, including women and children, who have suffered beatings, whippings, burnings and rape before fleeing to Britain.
The organisation said that some of its service users – including one man who has been homeless for more than three years in Scotland – have had to make the journey to Liverpool.
Fiona Crombie, head of clinical services at Freedom from Torture, said it is “utterly inhumane” to expect people making a fresh asylum claim, most of whom have little money and some of whom are entirely destitute, to travel over 200 miles.
“This process is traumatic enough for people who are still trying to demonstrate to a hostile system that they have been tortured, let alone make a long journey to an unfamiliar city, often using their last pennies to do so,” Crombie added.
“This is yet another example of a system that is designed to be as hostile as possible, with no recognition of the complex trauma people might already have suffered.”
Traci Kirkland, Head of Charity at Govan Community Project, said that entering further submissions is “an essential stage of an asylum claim for many asylum seekers and therefore the obvious barriers of travelling to Liverpool – including cost, language and safety – prevent people from being able to exercise their legal right to progress their asylum claim”.
She said it was “nonsensical” that this cannot be undertaken at the Home Office in Glasgow, particularly when there are such a large number of dispersals to Scotland’s largest city.
Kirkland continued: “Additionally, under current Home Office policy, asylum seekers who have become appeal rights exhausted, can only apply for financial assistance and accommodation once they make further submissions in Liverpool.
“Asylum seekers are therefore left destitute while they wait for their appointment. The waiting times to get through to the phone line to book an appointment are extremely long and often result in receiving an appointment that is several months later.
“In the meantime the person is left destitute and has to find the means to purchase travel tickets to Liverpool. This is often done through charitable grants which are not guaranteed to be successful and this route is putting undue strain on the charitable sector.
“The difficulties faced in funding the travel costs leaves many individuals and families in vulnerable positions, at a high risk of exploitation.”
Most of these people have nothing, and many have been forced to leave families and loved ones behind in order to seek safety and security. To show such a lack of empathy is frankly astounding. Alison Thewliss, SNP MP
Alison Thewliss, SNP MP, said: “A number of constituents have visited my office and surgeries with regards requests made of them to travel from Glasgow to Liverpool, or even London, in order to be interviewed as part of their asylum claim.
“Most of these people have nothing, and many have been forced to leave families and loved ones behind in order to seek safety and security. To show such a lack of empathy is frankly astounding.
“An overhaul of Home Office policies is long overdue. We have facilities in Glasgow to allow interviews to take place locally; the Home Secretary must take note, and show some compassion”.
In reply, the Home Office said: “The United Kingdom has a long and proud history of offering sanctuary to those who need our protection.
“Processing in-person applications for those refused asylum centrally allows experienced caseworkers to provide a more effective service to those claimants.”
Last week, there were allegations the Home Office has conducted racial profiling in Glasgow. Figures published by The Ferret – in tandem with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the Bristol Cable – revealed that more than 200 British citizens were stopped by immigration officials over the last two years.
This article also appeared in the Sunday National on 5 May 2019.