"MY dream is that we live in a world where those fleeing violence and oppression are shown compassion and treated like human beings, not shown the door and bundled onto planes like unwanted cargo.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon won a standing ovation after delivering those words in her keynote speech to the SNP conference earlier this month. It came in stark contrast to the rhetoric from a collapsing Westminster government “obsessed” with deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda.

READ MORE: 'Brexit is the big lie': Yes supporters rally in Edinburgh for EU re-entry

Now, the Scottish Refugee Council (SRC) has called on Sturgeon to ensure her government takes “clear steps … through Scotland’s devolved powers” to make her dream a reality.

Sabir Zazai, the SRC’s chief executive, told the charity’s annual general meeting on Thursday: “There are meaningful actions Scotland can take to make sure that people seeking safety here are welcomed, valued and respected. We know that Scotland wants to welcome refugees and see them as assets to our communities.

“It’s time to take action to make that wish a reality.”

Immigration and devolution

Under Schedule 5 of the 1998 Scotland Act, powers relating to “immigration, including asylum and the status and capacity of persons in the United Kingdom who are not British citizens” are reserved to the UK Government.

Furthermore, under the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act asylum seekers in the UK have “no recourse to public funds” (NRPF). This means that devolved government and local authorities are barred from providing monetary support to people seeking asylum.

Instead, asylum seekers receive only a daily allowance from the Home Office of £5.83 (which drops to £1.18 if they are housed in hotels).

Gary Christie, the SRC's head of policy, told the Sunday National: “[The NRPF] regime means that devolved governments and local authorities have one hand tied behind their back, but there are non-monetary things that the Scottish Government could do.”

The Scottish Government said the NRPF policy also restricts access to local authority housing and homeless services for asylum seekers, preventing accommodation provision outside Home Office contracts.

Christie went on: “We don’t want to see statements that asylum and immigration are reserved so full stop.

“Transport, aspects of the welfare system, health, education, these are devolved competencies. That’s what we want to see, what the [Scottish] Government can do in spite of the challenges.”

So, what can the Scottish Government do with its devolved powers?

1: Transport.

Transport is “critical” to anyone looking to integrate in a new country, but the costs can be prohibitively expensive for someone seeking asylum.

In January, the Scottish Government began providing free public transport for under-22s. Christie said the SRC has “seen the huge benefit of that”, and said a similar scheme could be brought in for asylum seekers.

Christie said: “[It’s] a huge issue for people in the asylum process who are living on £5 a day when transport around Glasgow can cost around £5 a day. Could the Scottish Government introduce measures such as national entitlement to transport? That would be a huge benefit to them to support their integration.”

Zazai has called on the Scottish Government to “ensure all people seeking protection are included in non-monetary anti-poverty measures”.

2: Victims of human trafficking.

As it stands, the UK Home Office is tasked with identifying who in the asylum system has been a victim of human trafficking, while the Scottish Government provides support.

Christie said the Tory government had been treating trafficking “as an immigration issue rather than a criminal justice issue”, and suggested that Scotland had the powers to see things done differently.

The SRC head of policy said the Scottish Government “could and should” bring the identification of human trafficking victims under its own control. Zazai said this could involve “wrapping round survivor support rights for an end-to-end anti-trafficking system”.

3: Employment.

Under UK law, asylum seekers are banned from working until they are granted refugee status.

While the Scottish Government is currently powerless to change this, it could use voluntary schemes to help people “maintain skills and develop skills that can help them enter the labour market when they are able to do so”, Christie said.

“What we hear from all refugees is employment, and I think [we should be] looking at all measures to support people to transition to employment very quickly, and prepare people in the asylum process for the labour market.”


Zazai told the SRC on Thursday that the UK Government has “for decades … treated refugees and people seeking protection as a problem”.

He said the result was a“fractured” system that was in turn “fracturing the very concept of asylum in the UK”.

Asked if a Labour government Tory government under a new prime minister, could see a new approach to asylum seekers from the Home Office, Christie said: “We would hope so, but we don’t think that ... under whatever prime minister we have. The focus is obviously going to be on the economy.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Asylum is reserved to the UK Parliament. The UK Government restricts the rights of people seeking asylum, including under the NRPF policy. However, the Scottish Government will continue to do all it can within devolved powers to protect communities and support people.

“We are clear that people seeking asylum should be supported to integrate in our communities from the day they arrive.

“This is a key principle of the New Scots refugee integration strategy, which we are working to deliver in partnership with Cosla and the Scottish Refugee Council. We are working with partners to try and improve support for people seeking asylum and provide the safety and security they need as they begin to rebuild their lives.

“We regularly raise issues with the UK Government which are impacting people seeking asylum, and we will continue to make the case for immigration and asylum.”