Monday, July 15, 2024

Scottish Government to implement asylum seekers bus travel pilot by next year

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The Scottish Government will “develop and deliver” a pilot giving asylum seekers free bus travel in the next year, an official document has said.

The issue is currently subject to a petition before a Holyrood committee, but former first minister Humza Yousaf said in September it was under “active consideration” by Government.

The Scottish Government has allocated a £2 million budget for the initiative.

Free bus travel is currently afforded to those over the age of 60 and under the age of 22.

According to the delivery plan for the Scottish Government’s New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy – published on Wednesday – the pilot will be in place by the end of this financial year.

“Develop and deliver a national pilot to support free bus travel for people seeking asylum, building on local and regional pilots delivered by third sector organisations over recent years, and to inform potential for future travel support,” the 43-page report said.

Transport Scotland will take the lead, supported by third sector organisations and councils.

The short-term outcome, according to the report, would see “improved access to services and opportunities to take part in community activities”.

Scotland’s equalities minister, Kaukab Stewart, said: “Scotland has a proud history of welcoming those fleeing war and persecution, and we are dedicated to helping them integrate into communities from the day they arrive.

“It is vital that we support refugees and people seeking asylum to understand their rights and access employment and services to help them to rebuild their lives in Scotland.

“This plan, which was informed by engagement with those with experience of seeking refuge and settling in Scotland, as well as those with expertise in supporting them, lays out the steps we will take to support refugees and people seeking asylum to integrate across different parts of society.

“It also recognises the role communities and employers can actively play in supporting people.”

Professor Alison Phipps, of Glasgow University, the chair of the New Scots Core Group, said: “To develop the New Scots refugee integration strategy delivery plan, New Scots and communities across Scotland have reflected deeply on what it means to live together, with and despite differences.

“This plan offers an exciting commitment to action across Scotland and to embedding the rights of all who seek refuge.”

Along with the pilot on bus travel, the Scottish Government has also pledged to develop a plan to allow asylum seekers to work while their claims are being processed, which will be submitted to the UK Government for approval, according to the document.

Currently, those seeking asylum are not regularly allowed to work until their application has been approved, having to apply to the UK Government for permission to take on employment.

Earlier this year, the Scottish Parliament also declared a housing emergency, with homelessness applications at an all-time high.

The plan seeks to wrestle with the situation, saying the Government and councils will “continue work towards ending homelessness for New Scots at risk of destitution, including by considering means of scaling up community-based accommodation provision and holistic support that meets the needs of those New Scots who are not entitled to statutory housing or homelessness services”.

Under current rules, those who seek asylum are not able to access the support offered to others in Scotland at risk of homelessness, but there has been a spike in the number who are granted the right to stay in Scotland who then lose the accommodation provided before their application was processed and look to local councils for help.

Earlier this year, Jim McBride, the head of homelessness at Glasgow City Council, told Holyrood’s Social Justice Committee the authority was attempting to house up to 10 households per day.

“We’ve identified the fact it’s going to be an almost impossible challenge for us to manage,” he said.

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