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A nation of sanctuary

Tamsin Stirling looks at the Welsh Government Nation of Sanctuary Plan and what it might mean for housing organisations.

Following a consultation during 2018, in January of this year the Welsh Government published Nation of Sanctuary – Refugee and Asylum Seeker Plan. In her ministerial foreword to the plan, Jane Hutt notes:

‘Refugees and asylum seekers often arrive in Wales following traumatic experiences in their countries of origin and on their journeys to the UK. We want to ensure that these individuals are supported to rebuild their lives and make a full contribution to Welsh society.’

The minister also outlines the different roles played by the UK Government and Welsh Government which set the context for the plan:

‘The UK Government is responsible for asylum policy…. Therefore, many of the challenges faced by these communities cannot be fully resolved without policy changes by the UK Government… The proposed actions in this plan cannot contravene UK Government legislative rules relating to refugees and asylum seekers. However, it focuses on proposals within the devolved areas which the Welsh Government can influence.’  

Housing is one of these devolved areas and the plan sets out a number of actions which focus on accommodation, or rather, home:

  • Ensure refugees are supported to transition from asylum accommodation to sustainable accommodation. Welsh Government commitments include:
    • working with the four dispersal areas[1] to ensure their homelessness prevention strategies take account of the vulnerability of new refugees to homelessness
    • exploring opportunities to reduce refugee homelessness by working with RSLs, local authorities, credit unions and others to identify clearer pathways into accommodation during the ‘Move On’ period
    • ensuring Rent Smart Wales’ landlord training includes an explanation of the Right to Rent checks and how to easily check the status of refugees to prevent discrimination
    • working with local authorities and others to ensure the Housing Support Grant supports those refugees who are eligible to maintain their accommodation
  • Promote good quality asylum accommodation provided by the UK Government
  • Support asylum seeker tenants to advocate for improvements to their accommodation.

The plan also seeks to mitigate destitution and identifies action to be taken to map the availability of support for destitute refugees and asylum seekers and implement options to improve support during 2019.

Asylum seekers who are destitute have no recourse to public funds (NRPF); they may be appealing decisions on their immigration status or submitting new claims after a change in circumstances. What are deemed public funds is set out in the Immigration Rules and the NRPF Network provides clear information[2] about what are, and are not, public funds. Of particular relevance to housing organisations is that an allocation of a housing association property is only considered a public fund if it has been obtained via a council’s waiting list/register.

To start putting the accommodation aspects of the plan into action, two projects have been commissioned by the Welsh Government which look at different aspects of providing safe, secure homes for people seeking sanctuary in Wales.

Tai Pawb has been leading on a project exploring the feasibility of establishing temporary accommodation and support specifically for refugees in Wales during the move-on period, based on models already established by specialist providers in England. The second project which is being undertaken by Heather Petch and Tamsin Stirling, is looking at accommodation options for asylum seekers whose claims have been refused. Such options include community hosting and shared houses either for refused asylum seekers or for a mix of refugees and refused asylum seekers.

The report from the Tai Pawb project has been published[3], while the report from the refused asylum seekers project will be published in the coming months and will include practical recommendations for the housing sector. Looking at the projects that are already in place in England, these recommendations are likely to involve housing organisations working in different ways and potentially with new partners.

We all know that the supply of affordable, secure housing options is exceeded by demand across Wales. Added to this, there can sometimes be concerns about community cohesion when providing housing for newcomers to Wales. However, the Nation of Sanctuary Plan makes clear the Welsh Government ambition for us to be as welcoming as we can be to those who have sought sanctuary here and that this includes providing good homes for people. A challenge the housing sector can rise to I am sure.

Tamsin Stirling can be contacted at [email protected] pipex.com and is on Twitter @TamsinStirling1

[1] Cardiff, Swansea, Newport and Wrexham

[2] www.nrpfnetwork.org.uk/information/Pages/not-public-funds.aspx

[3] www.taipawb.org/refugee-housing

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