Asylum seeker rights activists to launch ‘right to work’ campaign in Scotland

Caitlin Logan

Activist behind Ireland’s successful right to work campaign to speak at Unity Centre event in Glasgow

ASYLUM SEEKER-turned-activist Lucky Khambule, who successfully campaigned for the unrestricted right to work for those in the asylum system in Ireland, will speak in Glasgow next month at an event designed to kick-start a similar campaign in Scotland.

Khambule is a founding member of Movement of Asylum Seekers Ireland (MASI), and will deliver workshops on the campaign which saw Ireland’s Supreme Court rule the ban on asylum seekers’ right to work as unconstitutional in February this year.

In the UK, asylum seekers continue to be barred from working or accessing mainstream benefits, a policy known as No Recourse to Public Funds. While those who have been in the UK for more than 12 months have access to jobs from the Shortage Occupation List, this is only applicable to a small minority of people.

The Unity Centre, which provides support and solidarity to asylum seekers and all migrants in Scotland, is calling on likeminded advocates of workers’ and migrants’ rights to attend the event at Kinning Park Complex on 5 August and start planning a united campaign on the issue.

Speaking to CommonSpace, Mark Thomas of the Unity Centre explained: “The reality of this work ban, mixed with the fact of No Recourse to Public Funds and that asylum support is £36 a week, effectively means that people are being sent a clear message about how people are expected to live here.

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“The logic touted is that [the right to work] would create a draw but the evidence for this is spurious at best, and overlooks the reality that legally barring people from work doesn’t stop people working. Rather, it means people work precarious, exploitative and dangerous jobs.”

“The driving principal, though, is that the right to work is a fundamental right that should be available to all.”

According to British Red Cross, the numbers of asylum seekers being left destitute in Scotland has risen in recent years, with 820 people in this position coming to them for help in 2016, compared to 326 in 2014.

Employment and immigration law are both currently reserved to the UK Government, while the SNP and Scottish Greens have both called for these policy areas to be devolved.

Organisers are hoping that a broad spectrum of groups, organisations and people will attend the upcoming event and be inspired by the campaign in Ireland, with an understanding that the problem for asylum seekers overlaps clearly with some of the most pressing issues facing the wider population.

Thomas said: “Precarious work has proliferated across the UK over the last decade – whether in terms of wages, pay, or general conditions, workers are being hit really hard across the UK.

“The areas where push back and victories are taking places is around the margins, fighting for contracts and basic rights like Better Than Zero, or migrant workers like United Voices of the World.

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“We believe that the right to work for all is not a specific campaign for migrants, but one that can and should be embraced by all fighting against precarious working conditions.”

The right to work for asylum seekers was proposed in a paper published by think tank Common Weal last year, with the backing of Unison Scotland and the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC).

The Scottish Government announced in May this year that it would use its powers over the voting franchise, devolved to the Scottish Parliament in 2016, to extend the vote to refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland.

The move was welcomed by migrant rights campaigners, social and economic rights, who stressed that further steps must now be taken to ensure social and economic equality for asylum seekers. 

The event at Kinning Park Complex will start at 3pm, will be free to attend, and will offer bus pass money to those who need it and free childcare with a PVG registered childminder for duration of the event.

Picture courtesy of Takver