Before I comment on the speeches so far, I want to mention this. Today I visited the Crowne Plaza hotel in my constituency, which has housed asylum seekers for the last year. This weekend a young Sudanese man died at the hotel. I will not name him because I am not sure whether his family have been contacted yet, but I want to send my condolences and sympathy to all his friends that I met today. It exemplifies the precarious nature of the life of many of the people who come here to seek safety and security. We are not sure of the cause of death. There were reports this morning about the large numbers of young men who come here and go on to take their own lives. We need to learn some lessons and approach the issue with compassion. I have listened to all the speeches, and I do not think I can add to any of the recommendations that have been made, bar one.
All I can do is bring my experience to the debate. Sometimes these debates are no longer rational. They are delivered by emotions, including the emotions that I feel. I have been dealing with asylum seekers in my constituency for over 40 years, as an activist campaigning for our local law centre, or as a Greater London Council councillor, and then as the local MP. I have met hundreds of asylum seekers and hundreds of families. Their lives undocumented have been scarred and sometimes broken by the asylum system that we now have.
As others have said, the system is complex, slow, incompetent, inefficient, brutal and inhumane. And it is expensive, especially for those living in poverty because they have been forced by the hostile environment on to the margins of our society and because there is no access to legal aid. As someone has already said, most of the people we are talking about came legally into the country and went into the process but dropped out. In my experience, people drop out in many instances, first, because of appallingly poor legal advice, with people being ripped off and given expensive legal advice that was going nowhere, and, secondly, because of the huge mental health issues that they have faced, both through their suffering in their country of origin and in their travels here, and when they arrived here—a place where they thought they would find security and succour.
The issue around the fees is important because by criminalising work for these people, it means that they are exploited. In the cases I have dealt with, because work has been criminalised it forces them into illegal work, being ripped off and often not being paid. I have dealt with many women who have been exploited sexually as a result of their vulnerability, because their work is illegal. In some instances, when they have gone to the authorities and reported it, they have been picked up as an illegal. That is why people do not report and often do not identify the perpetrator of some of these appalling acts of exploitation and, in some instances, sexual violence.
I therefore agree with all the proposals that have been put forward by my hon. Friends. Some Members who have spoken today may not accept an amnesty. It has worked elsewhere, as others have said, and I think it should be considered, just as the Prime Minister considered it when he was the Mayor of London. I welcomed the statements that he made then. If people cannot go as far as that, my hon. Friends the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) and for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra), along with others, have set out a number of reforms that are readily available to us and could transform the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who are living in our communities. They come here for safety and security, but they also want to contribute to the society of their host community.
One further reform that I would like the Government to consider is the scrapping of no recourse to public funds, because it is forcing people into destitution, exploitation and, in many instances, situations of vulnerability that put their health and their lives at risk. The plea from the people who signed the petition, nearly 4,000 of whom were my constituents, is the same that others have made in the debate today, which is that this system is not working, even on the Government’s own terms, because 99% of people are not intimidated by the hostile environment to return their countries of origin because they are so vulnerable there. If the system is not working, even on the Government’s own terms, now is the time for reform, and it is needed urgently because people are suffering and, as we have experienced today in my constituency, people are dying as well.