The Scottish Government is giving “active consideration” to calls to extend free bus travel to asylum seekers, Humza Yousaf has said.
The First Minister added there are some “complex challenges” to be overcome to do so, but he insisted these are “not insurmountable”.
Mr Yousaf stressed the Scottish Government is “open to the idea” as he condemned the “dreadful commentary around refugees we have seen in the last 24 hours from the UK Government”.
His comments came after UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman said the current system means millions of asylum seekers are being incentivised to “try their luck” as she called for the “definition of who qualifies for protection” to be “tightened”.
In pre-briefed comments ahead of her speech in Washington DC, the Home Secretary said offering asylum to a person because they are gay, a woman or fearing discrimination in their home country is not sustainable.
But the UN High Commissioner for Refugees released a statement shortly after her speech stressing there is no need for a “more restrictive interpretation” of asylum rules, while the LGBT+ charity Stonewall described Ms Braverman’s words as “incredibly concerning”.
Mr Yousaf said the remarks show the “UK Government have completely lost their way”.
He added: “They will throw refugees under the bus for cheap, narrow political gain. For shame.”
With Holyrood’s Citizen Participation and Public Participation Committee currently considering a petition calling for free bus travel to be extended to asylum seekers, committee convener Jackson Carlaw pressed the First Minister on the issue.
Raising the issue at a six-monthly question session with the First Minister and all of Holyrood’s committee conveners, Mr Carlaw admitted he was hoping to “banjax” Mr Yousaf into agreement.
Mr Carlaw stressed that extending free bus travel to asylum seekers who do not currently qualify for it because of their age would be “enormously valuable”, telling the First Minister of the case of one man who had been forced to walk 10 miles in the rain to get dental treatment as he could not afford the bus fare.
Mr Yousaf said: “If there is one issue I should be banjaxed into I think this is probably a contender.
“In short we are open to this issue and are giving it active consideration.
“There are a number of complex challenges when it comes to what we are able to do in relation to asylum seekers, how they are identified, how we can make a concessionary scheme work. But these are not insurmountable if there is a desire to take forward these issues.
“It has been an issue of live discussion within Government, and if there is a way to do this we are certainly seeking to do that. But it does come with some complexities.”
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