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You Have to Learn English.. But Sorry, You Can't!

one of noborders | 19.01.2007 08:43 | Anti-racism | Migration | Birmingham

Earlier this week, a campaign was launched by the University and College Union (UCU), the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (Niace), the National Association for Teaching English and other Community Languages to Adults (Natecla), the Refugee Council and other concerned bodies to 'lobby the government' to reverse plans to end automatic fee remission on free English classes for asylum seekers. In a briefing paper published on 11 January, 2006, the Refugee Council detailed the real risks associated with limiting the ability of asylum seekers and refugees to learn English. "For refugees, limiting access to English classes will increase the difficulties they already face in building new lives in the UK and finding work," the paper said. Many refugees are unemployed or in jobs which don't use their skills and experience, and refugee communities are among the poorest in the country.

Ironically, in 2001 ESOL became part of the government's Skills for Life programme, sitting alongside literacy and numeracy. Since 1 November 2005, when the Life in the United Kingdom Test was introduced, all refugees applying for citizenship have to pass that test, of which language is a crucial part, before they are 'naturalised'. There has also been a lot of fuss lately about the amount of money spent on translation and interpretation, and such changes will obviously increase the need for translation and interpretation in public services (unless the next move by the government is to ban asylum seekers and refugees from these services!).

The Learning and Skills Council (LSC) issued its annual statement of priorities, called "Raising our Game", on 18 October, 2006, announcing that English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) learning will no longer attract automatic fee remission, except for 'priority groups', which will include people who are unemployed or are receiving income-based benefits. This means adult asylum seekers will no longer be eligible for free tuition. Refugees who are unemployed or in receipt of income-related benefits will still be eligible for free ESOL tuition. However, those who are not claiming benefits will be required to pay.

Starting in August 2007/08, colleges will classify all asylum seekers as international students (although colleges do have the discretion to charge asylum seekers home student fees or waive fees altogether). Those who have been granted refugee status, humanitarian protection, discretionary leave or exceptional leave to remain will continue to be classed as home students.

An 'early-day motion' to the House of Commons, proposed by the Labour MP for Warrington North, Helen Jones, called on the government to "reinstate appropriate funding for ESOL learning" and has so far been signed by almost 100 MP's.

one of noborders