Partial victory as Government issues new guidance on asylum volunteers

Alison Thewliss, SNP MP for Glasgow Central, has welcomed changes in Home Office guidance, which has been issued to asylum decision makers just days after she raised complaints about “fundamentally flawed” rules surrounding asylum seekers volunteering and working.

Just two days after raising the case of her constituent Olivier Mondeke Monongo – a Christian Pastor from the Democratic Republic of Congo – the Home Office quietly issued new guidance to its decision makers, making explicitly clear that “it is Home Office policy to support asylum seekers volunteering for charities or public sector organisations”.

The Christian Pastor and his family were granted refugee status in the UK several years ago but he was later denied British citizenship because he had volunteered for the British Red Cross as an interpreter during his claim for asylum. At the time, doing such volunteering was considered in breach of his asylum application conditions and a sign of ‘bad character’. Monongo, who is also a mental health nurse for the NHS, cannot now re-apply for British citizenship until 2020.

In light of the guidance which has just been issued, Ms Thewliss is now asking for Ministerial discretion to be used to allow Olivier and his family to apply for British citizenship immediately.

Commenting, the Glasgow Central MP said:

“This new guidance makes much clearer that volunteering should not be regarded as a sign of bad character and indeed encouraged. This will be of great comfort to individuals and to the organisations who value the contribution volunteers make.

“The previous rules were fundamentally flawed and led to an honest and upstanding member of the community being denied British citizenship, simply because he volunteered for the British Red Cross. That is absolutely ridiculous.

“I’m glad that my debate in Westminster Hall last week highlighted the folly of this policy; I’m very glad to see revised policy being issued to Home Office decision makers. However, I went into Westminster Hall last week with two asks – one was to make sure people can’t be penalised for volunteering and the other was to lift the ban on asylum seekers working. Although I’m pleased that there has been progress on the first issue, I am still going to pursue the wider issue of allowing asylum seekers to take up paid employment, which we know would save the Government tens of millions of pounds.

“As for my constituent Olivier, I am today writing to the Home Secretary Amber Rudd and asking her to personally intervene and set in motion the process of allowing Olivier and his family to apply for citizenship – not in 2020 but now.”

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