St Albans MP condemns Home Office for asylum seekers incompetence

Daisy with the volunteers at a conversation group at St Bartholomew’s

Daisy with the volunteers at a conversation group at St Bartholomew’s, which was started as an initiative by South St Albans Churches. - Credit: Ali Newcombe

St Albans MP Daisy Cooper MP has described the plight of asylum seekers currently residing in the district as “utter misery”, as they face a legal ban on working, and report living in terrible conditions on just £8 a week.

Currently, there are more than 150 asylum seekers – including families - in St Albans who are waiting for the Home Office to process their applications with a view to gaining refugee status.

Without refugee status, they are legally barred from taking up any paid work.

Daisy met many of these asylum seekers at a weekly conversational English group class at St Bartholomew’s Church started as an initiative by South St Albans Churches.

She was accompanied by local St Stephen councillor Ajanta Hilton, who has been organising football sessions for the asylum seekers.

Daisy said: “It was inspiring yet heart-breaking to hear stories from people fleeing persecution, from countries including Ukraine, El Salvador and Iran. Among those I met were a trained pharmacist, an accountant and a marine biologist.

“When fleeing oppression, war or terror, asylum seekers can often bring no more than the clothes on their back. But what they can bring are their skills. Many of them have at least one degree, all have experience and knowledge in their fields, and all of them want to work.

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“Yet they’re not allowed to contribute to our society, economy, or help fill the workforce gaps present in so many sectors currently. This is both demoralising for them, and an unnecessary pressure on public finances.

“And many are suffering mental health issues – those in ‘bridging’ accommodation receive only £8 a week from the Government, leaving many feeling confined to their rooms.

“I’ve already written to the Home Office to ask why more isn’t being done to find safe and secure permanent accommodation for asylum seekers instead of leaving them in bridging hotels for an indeterminate amount of time.

“In addition, I have also been chasing up multiple applications for refugee status with the Home Office. However, progress with this is frustratingly slow and the Home Office can’t even provide a timescale.

"This uncertainty is crushing and cruel, and is severely testing asylum seekers’ patience and mental health, putting pressure on public finances and depriving our economy of talented professionals that we so desperately need.”

Daisy talking to one of the asylum seekers.

Daisy talking to one of the asylum seekers. - Credit: Ali Newcombe

Teresa Clarke, who runs the group, added: “The conversation groups have supported asylum seekers with structured English sessions since February 2022.

"Many of the asylum seekers have been living in a hotel since September 2021, waiting for their asylum applications to be processed. This uncertainty and the prospect of deportation to Rwanda has seriously affected their mental health.

"We have helped them to apply for toiletries and clothes from local refugee charities.

“They receive just £8 a week, which does not cover bus fares into St Albans, so we asked Churches Together in St Albans to source some second hand bikes, and received 45! The bikes are checked for safety and Bikeability training has been provided by Herts county council.”