Since the announcement from the Home Office this week regarding ‘the biggest asylum shake up this country has seen in decades’, human rights campaigners, immigration lawyers, and opposition politicians have widely criticised the lack of compassion the new plans possess.
Under the new measures, migrants who have entered the UK by “illegal methods” such as via dangerous Channel crossings or through people smugglers, will not be given the same entitlements when seeking asylum as those who have arrived via legal resettlement routes. These refugees could instead be automatically denied asylum and deported to the country they have travelled from.
Home Secretary Priti Patel has described the asylum shake up as a ‘fair but firm’ method of discouraging refugees from using other EU countries as a ‘springboard to get to the UK.’ However, campaigners and the Labour party have labelled this new policy as inhumane.
Director of refugee charity Care4Calais Claire Moseley has spoken out against the shake-up calling Patel’s measures ‘anything but fair’. She said: ‘It’s not fair that the cornerstone of Britain’s new plan for asylum is to deny help to desperate people who have no other way to travel.
‘Just because someone pays a people smuggler it does not mean that they are not in genuine need of asylum – quite the opposite is true; people in desperate need do whatever they can to survive.’
Tim Naor Hilton, CEO of Refugee Action also criticised the ‘fairness’ of these new measures. ‘They represent the biggest attack on the right to claim asylum that we have ever seen and will close the door to desperate people who arrive in the UK to seek safety,’ he said.
‘The asylum system needs reform, but these are hard-hearted and cruel proposals. There is nothing ‘fair’ about them.’
The UK received almost 30,000 asylum applications in 2020, which showed an 20% decline from the number in 2019. Many of these people risked the hazardous Channel crossing in small boats and dinghies and only half were granted some form of refugee protection.
Compared to 20 years ago, this is less than half the amount of people seeking asylum in Britain and far fewer refugees than France, Spain, and Germany accept each year.
Patel argues that migrants who enter EU countries should seek asylum there, instead of journeying on to the UK. However, according to the UN refugee agency, this is against Refugee Convention legislation that Britain is subject to. A UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson confirmed, ‘Anyone seeking asylum should be able to claim in their intended destination or another safe country.’
They added, ‘Penalising asylum-seekers on this basis risks making claimants destitute and leaving more people in limbo, without addressing the fundamental causes behind displacement and onward movements.’
The UK currently lacks deals with EU countries for accepting deported refugees who have travelled through them on route to the UK. Britain left the EU Dublin Regulation in December 2020, which obliged countries that had previously registered refugees to take them back under specific circumstances.
Patel claimed that this system made it too difficult to return asylum seekers, but she has not offered an alternative. Several countries have already denied hosting UK processing centres, including Turkey, Gibraltar, and The Isle Of Mann.
Many asylum seekers make the difficult journey to the UK instead of alternative destinations to be reunited with family already living here. For those already in desperate situations, the asylum shake up may not be the deterrent the Home Office intends. Noted Immigration Barrister Colin Yeo stated, ‘Compared to the situation wherever it is they are, this all seems irrelevant and it’s not enough to put them off.’
The shake-up is yet another action that affirms the negative narrative from the Government encouraging discrimination against already marginalised refugees. Labelling displaced people as criminals taking illegal actions, instead of desperate people risking their lives for shelter has been described by Claire Moseley as ‘not just misleading, but dangerous and damaging to our society as a whole.’
She went on to say, ‘I’m saddened and disturbed to see our leaders creating division in the communities in which we live. We need leaders who treat refugees with compassion and respect because they are people who have simply had the misfortune to be born in the wrong place.’
Despite the negative labels applied by the government and hostility from the right-wing press, Care4Calais has seen a higher rate of donations since the beginning of the pandemic. Moseley believes this proves the government narrative does not represent the majority of British people citing the established historic data that refugees enrich the societies they join and fill skill gaps, such as within the NHS.
Header image by Inside Westminster