UK urged to pull its weight to support African refugees

Refugees_and_migrants_in_a_detention_centre_in_Libya
Refugees and migrants in a detention centre in Libya.

Britain should practise what it preaches to African countries by doubling the number of vulnerable refugees it hosts and reviewing policies that restrict an asylum seeker’s right to work, lawmakers said on Tuesday.

A cross-party committee said the British government should “lead by example” by resettling and employing refugees, especially those forcibly uprooted from their homes in sub-Saharan Africa.

“It is so important that the UK behaves at home as it is asking some of the world’s poorest nations to do,” said Stephen Twigg, chairman of the International Development Committee, which scrutinises Britain’s foreign aid department.

“We should not be asking nations to house and employ refugees when the numbers we take in are so small, and the employment freedoms limited,” he said in a statement.

The committee said Britain resettled 5,756 refugees in 2017/18, but only about 450 were from sub-Saharan Africa – a region where conflict uprooted 15,000 people every day in 2017, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.

It said the country’s intake of the most vulnerable refugees should increase to 10,000 per year, with a quarter of those spaces reserved for sub-Saharan Africa.

A government spokesman said it was committed to supporting refugees.

“We are strongly committed to supporting refugees and UK leadership has helped drive longer-term ways of working that mean refugees can access education, find work and become more self-reliant, while also benefitting host communities,” a spokesman from Britain’s Department for International Development said in a statement.

Over a third of the world’s forcibly displaced people are in Africa, including some 6.3 million refugees and 14.5 million who have been forced from their homes within their own country’s borders, according to the African Union.

The United Nations has praised African nations, which host more than 20 million displaced people, for adopting a more liberal “open door” policy toward refugees than Western nations, despite being low-income economies.

The committee report cited Uganda as having progressive policies that granted refugees freedom of movement, employment rights and equal access to healthcare and education.

As a member of the Global Compact on Refugees, which was approved by U.N. member states in December, Britain had an obligation to help ease pressures on host countries and provide refugees with access to education and work, it added.

It said although DFID encouraged other countries to grant refugees the right to work, Britain’s Home Office (interior ministry) “significantly limits asylum seekers’ right to work in the UK”.

“The government must urgently reassess this policy. Nothing would carry more weight with partner governments in Africa than the UK government practising what it has preached,” the committee report added.

A government spokesman said an individual has “immediate and unrestricted access to the labour market” once they have been granted protection.

“However, asylum seekers are not normally allowed to work while their asylum claim is determined, this is to protect the resident labour market and ensure access to employment is prioritised for British citizens and those lawfully resident here, including refugees.”

Until they have refugee status, asylum seekers in Britain are not allowed to work and rely on a weekly allowance of about 38 pounds ($50).

Germany, Spain and Canada allow asylum seekers to work while they wait for claims to be processed, which helps them integrate into their respective host countries, the committee said.

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