UK: restrictions on language lessons for asylum seekers

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Dec 28 18:02:18 UTC 2006

Lucy Ward, social affairs correspondent
Thursday December 28, 2006
The Guardian

Free English lessons for adult asylum seekers to be axed

The government is planning to axe free English language lessons for adult
asylum seekers next year in a move campaigners say will undermine efforts
to encourage new arrivals in the UK to integrate and will leave young
children acting as translators for their parents. From August 2007 asylum
seekers aged over 18 will no longer be eligible for free further education
and English courses. Ministers say the change is designed to shift funds
away from those applying to stay in Britain and towards those whose claim
has been granted. However, campaigners argue the move will leave
vulnerable asylum seekers attempting to cope with a maze of officialdom
and red tape without the language skills they need, as well as delaying
their efforts to settle if their application to stay is granted.

Foreigners applying for British citizenship already have to take a
language test, and the Home Office announced earlier this month that from
April 2007 those applying for indefinite leave to remain will also face an
English test and a quiz on life in the UK. The Children's Society, whose
work covers refugee and asylum-seeking children, warns that denying
parents the chance to begin learning English will also have the effect of
placing the burden of translation and interpretation on their children,
who will be able to continue learning the language free. The charity says
it has already seen examples of children having to take on inappropriate
roles, such as interpreting results of sensitive medical tests relating to
rape or torture, translating letters about problems with their own
schooling and documents issued under section 9 of the 2004 Asylum and
Immigration Act which threaten to take them into care if the family does
not return home voluntarily.

A submission by the Children's Society to the Home Office states: "We are
certain this measure will place an enormous burden on children,
disempowering their parents even further, and may particularly isolate
women." Policy adviser Lisa Nandy said the cuts to language classes seemed
inconsistent with government moves to compel immigrants to pass an English
test. She said: "In the light of efforts being made to aid integration and
build social cohesion it seems shortsighted to pursue a policy which will
create pools of exclusion containing people who may remain in the UK for
the rest of their lives. Refugees face many disadvantages ... without also
being denied the basic language skills to cope in a strange country. The
withdrawal of classes tilts the balance against their chances of
survival." In 43% of cases asylum applications took longer than six months
to process, she said.

The Department for Education and Employment yesterday defended the
changes, saying that resources were being focused on those who had been
"given a positive decision on their asylum claim".,,1979272,00.html


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