Lancaster MP Cat Smith has slammed the Home Office for forcing asylum seekers to travel miles out of the city to ‘sign in’ at police stations in Preston and Liverpool.
Asylum seekers awaiting a decision on their application to remain in the UK are required to regularly report to the UK Visas and Immigration Agency (UKVI), a division of the Home Office.
Reporting centres are located either in a Home Office buildings or more commonly at local police stations where UKVI officials have permission to conduct reporting. Most of these ‘signing in locations’ are based in local police stations where UKVI officials have permission to conduct reporting.
“Asylum seekers used to be able to sign in in Lancaster,” explained Ms Smith. “Now they’re being told that out of their £37.50 a week asylum support allowance they are expected to pay out more than half of this in travel expenses. In some cases asylum seekers are expected to sign in every two weeks.”
Ms Smith said the three agencies that represent and support asylum seekers in Lancaster have all contacted her raising their concerns.
“The Home Office says there is a reimbursement system available but Lancaster and Morecambe City of Sanctuary, Global Link and Refugee Advocacy, Information and Support all say the system isn’t working,” she said. “Asylum seekers have been told they can receive their travel expenses when they sign in but this isn’t happening. Instead the voluntary agencies are reimbursing them leaving them hugely out of pocket.”
Ms Smith has now written to the Home Office three times raising her concerns. She was told asylum seekers need to fill out a request form at the reporting centre. On most occasions this form has not been made available.
“Even where it has been provided, the majority of asylum seekers neither speak, read nor write English and filling in a form is well beyond their understanding,” Ms Smith said. “It means that the voluntary agencies will have to send a volunteer with the asylum seeker to attempt to claim back expenses that wouldn’t need to be paid out if they were able to go back to signing in, in Lancaster. The situation is crazy.”
A return train journey to Liverpool costs between £22 and £26 and a return bus journey from Lancaster to Preston is £6.
“Once again, Tory cost cutting hits the poorest and most vulnerable in society. Most asylum seekers have fled persecution, torture and threat to life,” said Ms Smith.
“They should be treated with compassion and empathy as we would hope to be if we found ourselves in the same desperate situation. As it is the Home Office treats them with little respect leaving them bewildered and dependant on the support of voluntary agencies. This has to change.”
Ms Smith has again written to the Home Office demanding asylum seekers are once again able to sign in, in Lancaster as well as requesting the swift reimbursement of travel expenses to all those left out of pocket.
A Home Office spokesman said immigration reporting service is no longer available in Lancaster “for operational reasons”.
“The majority of those who reported to Lancaster are only required to travel to Liverpool or Preston on a less than monthly basis,” the spokesman said.
“Reporting conditions are only applied to those who have received an adverse decision.
“Individuals receiving asylum support are provided with either a travel ticket or have money preloaded onto their aspen card to cover travel costs.”