Asylum Seekers

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:03 pm on 7th July 2000.

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Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench 2:03 pm, 7th July 2000

My Lords, I was disturbed to listen to the opening speech of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. It is important to integrate these asylum seekers as they disperse across the country. In Kent some communities engage with asylum seekers. They welcome them, get to know them and support them. That integration works. It needs to be introduced. It cannot work if there is no information and no one knows who the asylum seekers are. The noble Baroness, Lady Howells, made the same point. Compassion can be wiped out if there is no active effort to involve local communities with asylum seekers--in playing football, with help with writing and in other minor ways. I speak as a volunteer with Kosovan asylum seekers. It can be a great pleasure to work with them. If we do not know them, they may appear frightening. If they are our football partners, we can get along with them.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, spoke of a traumatised lass. I met a young woman from Sierra Leone whose sister had been murdered by soldiers. They had played cat-and-mouse with her before killing her. She described this appalling experience to me in floods of tears. Sitting with this young woman was an awful experience, yet these people are sent out unsupported into an unknown world. We must do more to support them.

There is a housing crisis in London and the South East. It is hard to house asylum seekers. Working as a volunteer in a hostel in Soho each week, I see young asylum seekers who are in cramped conditions for months on end because there is no move-on accommodation for them, while their peers move on after days or weeks. In future their situation will be worse because they are no longer entitled to social security benefit if they drift back to London.

I shall be interested to hear from the Minister. Perhaps he will write to me; I have not notified him of this question. What emergency measures are in place for asylum seekers who come from those new placements in the country back to London? What will happen to them? There is already great pressure on bed spaces for young people arriving in London, for instance at King's Cross. It is already difficult to place them. If they are not so placed, they are liable to become involved with sex workers and in drugs, and may become minor drug dealers. If those asylum seekers are not properly provided for and drift back, will they be trapped in the same way? Will fewer beds become available, resulting in other young people being trapped in the way I have described? These issues concern me greatly. I look forward to some response from the Minister.