Faith leaders call for free bus travel for asylum seekers

Senior faith leaders unite in urging the Scottish Government to enable people seeking asylum in Scotland to access free bus travel.

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In a statement, 24 faith leaders from a large number of religious groups in Scotland, highlight that “national free bus travel for people seeking asylum (an expansion of schemes for those aged 5-22 and 60+) would be a unique intervention the Scottish Government could deliver to effectively and immediately change the lives of people in our communities in the midst of an otherwise hostile policy environment towards those seeking asylum.”

Transport is an insurmountable cost for people seeking asylum who are not permitted to work and receive an allowance of just over £6 a day, and much less in many cases.  Lack of affordable transport causes isolation and limits people’s ability to access essential services and contribute to their communities.

Religious leaders insist that access to free bus travel would be “positively life-changing and mentally transformative for those otherwise stuck in an inadequate and slow asylum system”. They also maintain that it would “foster two-way integration and help build stronger and more resilient communities as it allows people to actively participate in activities such as English language practice, and religious worship and fellowship.”

A person seeking asylum from Glasgow explains: “Asylum seekers need [a] travel bus pass, because they need to go [to] appointments with doctor, lawyer and also visit at Church, Mosque, and Mundhir. They are mentally and physically [unwell], so they need to visit outside for [their] wellbeing.”

Abiola, an asylum seeker from Nigeria who has lived in Glasgow for five years, wholeheartedly agrees. “Having a bus pass would be great benefit to me and other asylum seekers in so many ways, particularly for our mental health,” she said.

“Our wellbeing would improve a lot and life would be easier because we are very restricted because tickets are very expensive and we are living on a tight budget. If I had a bus pass it would help me to move around more freely and when I am lonely I can go out and explore and take my mind off whatever I am thinking. All we want is to live a happier life and feel like we belong. The restrictions and limitations placed on asylum seekers make us feel like we are prisoners.”

Grace Franklin, Co-ordinator of the International Welcome Club at Wellington Church in Glasgow says that “free bus passes are vital for the wellbeing of asylum seekers. Walking for an hour to get to an ESOL class is commonplace among the asylum seekers I’ve taught. Several, who have had pedal bikes, have been injured when they have been knocked off them – sometimes because of pot holes, aggressive car drivers or other situations. Bus passes would not only make an asylum seeker’s life safer and easier to manage, they would make the individual’s quality of life a little easier and their meagre finances go much further.”

As a large number of people seeking asylum are people of faith, Linsay Taylor, Chair of Interfaith Scotland highlights the importance of access to worshipping communities: “Unfortunately, we live in a time where individuals who are seeking to exercise a most basic international right, that of seeking asylum, are being met with an increasingly hostile environment. This should be a cause for concern for us all. That is why Interfaith Scotland supports the call for free bus passes for those asylum seekers. Having access to a free bus pass will allow individuals to more easily interact with much-needed support, and community, as well as practise their faith by having much easier access to places of worship. Something that so many of us take for granted but which at this time is often inaccessible due to the cost of travel.”

The Maryhill Integration Network (MIN) has been working on this campaign for 2 years and welcomes that religious leaders back their calls to the Scottish Government. Pinar Aksu, Human Rights and Advocacy Coordinator of the Maryhill Integration Network speaks of how transformative it would be: “Access to concessionary bus travel is viewed by us as a key social justice policy. We know it will move asylum seekers as a group so much closer to integration in our communities.”

People in the asylum system from across Scotland are in strong support of this change in policy. Many speak of the freedom it would give them to attend appointments and the positive impact it would have on their wellbeing. A group member from MIN Voices explains: “Free Bus Travel will improve my mental health and keep me away from anxiety. I have to survive on £9 a week as I live in a hotel. There is no way for me to travel to meet friends, attend classes, see my lawyer or just to travel.” 

Others in a similar situation agree: “I thank everyone who is supporting free bus travel for asylum seekers. This will have a life changing impact on me. At least I will be able to freely travel and not be just at home”.

“Having Bus Pass will enable us to travel, and take part in educational and social activities”, says another group member at MIN Voices.

Rosie Burrell is Programme Manager of Interfaith Glasgow and leads an interfaith programme called the Weekend Club, which helps tackle the isolation experienced by many people in the asylum system. She confirms they “wholeheartedly” support the campaign noting that integration is “severely hampered by the prohibitive cost of travel”. “Making travel free for asylum seekers would enable us to deliver more support to Glasgow’s asylum seekers while significantly reducing isolation and the harm it causes by enabling newcomers to access further support and opportunities, build more social connections, and feel part of society.  If we want Scotland to be a place of sanctuary for people who have fled situations of unimaginable suffering, it really is the least we can do.”

A participant of the Weekend Club programme says: “Let us embrace the power of inclusivity and provide asylum seekers with the freedom to journey towards a brighter future to be able to fully contribute to the community.”

MIN and a group called the Voices Network has lodged a new petition at the Scottish Parliament which calls on MSPs to urge the Scottish Government to extend the current Concessionary Travel Scheme to include all people seeking asylum in Scotland regardless of age.

Read the full statement statement: