A human rights campaigner has issued a fresh call for the Scottish Government to extend free bus travel to asylum seekers in Scotland, saying it will 'literally save lives'. 

At present, free bus travel is provided to all those aged under 22, aged 60 and over and to those eligible on the grounds of disability, including asylum seekers and refugees. 

Pinar Aksu, of Glasgow refugee rights group Maryhill Integration Network, said that extending the scheme to those seeking asylum would help mitigate the “detention-style situation in life” faced by asylum seekers in Scotland, who she says are being forced to choose between buying food or a daily bus ticket to travel. 

She told The Herald: “Asylum seekers are currently receiving £40.85 per week and when you compare that with the cost of a daily bus pass, which is £5 in Glasgow, if they were to use that seven days a week, they would be left with just about 85 pence a day to survive on to go buy their food, to go to college or education or to go visit their lawyers. 

“Maryhill Integration Network attended a meeting at the Cross-Party Group (CPG) on Scottish migration at the Scottish Parliament last month on the topic of free bus passes for asylum seekers. There were a lot of testimonies from people who are going through the asylum process who mentioned that they are struggling just to travel from one end of the city to the other. Many are forced to walk more than one hour to meet their lawyers or to go to colleges or community centres as they don’t have money.

“One of the people from the CPG meeting summarised the whole situation perfectly and said that their accommodation has become their cell as they have been unable to go out. It’s literally making people live in a detention-style situation in life where they are detained from accessing the freedom of movement.”

Ms Aksu, who has worked with Maryhill Integration Network since 2017, is responsible for coordinating the MIN Voices Group, an advocacy and peers support group which gives refugees and asylum seekers a voice in the many issues they experience, at local and national levels.

Without the means to travel, many asylum seekers have been left unable to access the support offered to them by the organisation, and Ms Aksu fears lives will be lost as the impact of not being able to travel compounds an already “extremely stressful” asylum system in Scotland. 

She added: “At the moment it is really tough. We try to provide people some expenses when they come to use our services, and we are lucky that we are able to provide that for some people. For us even that is difficult to sustain as well in the long-term. Unfortunately, sometimes we don’t have the funds to provide people with a travel pass. Then they stop coming to classes and activities, which puts them into great isolation. That’s one of the key elements for us in terms of bus passes, the huge impact on mental health.

“People are literally going to lose their lives. The waiting times within the asylum system are extremely stressful and then if you add to that the fact that asylum seekers in Scotland have been left unable to leave their homes, attend classes or generally socialise with others. It is a big issue. Some even have problems with taking their children to school because they can’t afford the bus. 

“It takes a lot of courage from people to ask for that support as well. Imagine coming to a place and asking ‘Can I have a bus pass’. It’s taking away their dignity, asking constantly for support.”

Glasgow MSP Paul Sweeney helped launch a campaign to extend the Concessionary Travel Scheme to people seeking asylum in December of last year. He echoed the comments made by Ms Aksu, agreeing that the extension would represent “a lifeline” for thousands of asylum seekers across Scotland. 

HeraldScotland: Glasgow MSP Paul SweeneyGlasgow MSP Paul Sweeney

 

He told The Herald: “People seeking asylum are among the most marginalised in our society. They are given a paltry £42 a week to live on and will frequently have to make unthinkable choices like feeding their family or taking public transport to get to mandatory appointments. Providing them with free bus travel is a no brainer, and for such small change it would make a huge difference.

“The way people seeking asylum are treated by the Home Office is despicable. They are prevented from working, provided with squalid accommodation, and given a pittance to survive on. The Scottish Government can’t stop that treatment, the blame for that lies squarely with the UK Government, but there are ways that can help people seeking asylum in Scotland. The most important of those is providing free bus travel; it would be a lifeline for thousands across Scotland and would improve their lives immeasurably.”

In response, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: "We provide free bus travel to all those aged under 22, aged 60 and over and to those eligible on the grounds of disability, including asylum seekers and refugees. As outlined in the 2022/23 Programme for Government, we are working with third sector partners on how best to provide free bus travel to asylum seekers not eligible for these existing schemes."