Editorial: Sector must take united approach on asylum policy

Tania Mason

As the Government whips itself into a crisis-management frenzy over the twin issues of asylum and immigration, charities are staunchly continuing to deal with the human fallout of its knee-jerk, draconian policies.

The latest survey by the Refugee Council reports on the "devastating impact" that Section 55 - the policy of refusing welfare support to asylum seekers who fail to claim asylum immediately on arrival - is having on refugees on the ground.

Of 132 voluntary organisations surveyed, three-quarters had known Section 55 clients to be sleeping rough, two-thirds had seen clients with health problems, and 69 per cent had noted cases of mental illness.

And it isn't just refugee groups that pick up the pieces. Asylum policy impacts on a plethora of charities working in homelessness, human rights, children, poverty, health, and more. Yet their unique and expert views on the issues, formed by being closer to the problems than anyone else, go largely unheard or unheeded both by the Government and the media.

Perhaps the sector needs a co-ordinated response on asylum in order to get the voice of reason heard above the hysteria. Coalitions such as End Child Poverty and Bond have been very successful at representing the sector's views where it broadly agrees on issues.

Tim Finch, the Refugee Council's incoming director of communications, told Third Sector last week that the council is left out of the day-to-day news circuit because of "hostility to the issues it focuses on". Maybe with the support of some of the large children's or housing charities, it would be harder to ignore.

Then there might be a chance of getting the public to develop a sense of perspective on the real problems, instead of the perceived ones.

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