‘New Plan For Immigration’: Criminalising the Right to Seek Asylum

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As part of the home secretary’s ‘New Plan for Immigration’, officials will grant indefinite leave to remain to those arriving from approved ‘legal’ routes, hardening the make-believe boundary between those deserving and undeserving of safety.

Refugees fleeing war and conflict, who come through the home secretary’s new ‘safe and legal resettlement route’ will be given permanent UK residency, the Home Office has announced.

Asylum seekers that use this new route are then granted automatic indefinite leave to remain, a scheme UK officials hope will reduce so-called ‘illegal’ migration.

As hopeful as this new scheme sounds, the process would discriminate against those who don’t enter via the approved routes, regardless of their personal circumstances. This means they would be placed in detention centres and not have a fair chance of gaining indefinite leave to remain in the UK.

Priti Patel openly makes the distinction between ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ asylum seekers, despite the fact there is no such thing. Everyone has the human right to seek asylum, regardless of the route taken; desperation means many have no choice in the route.

The New Plan for Immigration would reconnect residency rights with gaining refugee status. Up until 2005 indefinite leave to remain was given once a positive decision was reached on an asylum claim. Indefinite leave to remain, also known as permanent residency, grants people permission to stay in the UK without any restrictions. Those with ILR are free to work, study and access NHS services, the so-called elements needed to build a stable life in the UK. Currently, refugees are only allowed to stay in the UK for five years, after which they can apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR).

While this is a common sense move to bring stability to peoples lives in the UK, it may only affect very small numbers. Like the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme, bringing 20,000 Syrian people to Britain, it cannot be said it doesn’t help people. But it enables a government that perpetuates increasingly xenophobic and harmful migration policies to simultaneously gush about their record of welcoming people to safety, entrenching the illegal-legal binary further.

The process would discriminate against those who don’t enter via the approved routes, regardless of their personal circumstances.

Refugees and children in regions of instability and conflict, for example those in Syrian camps, will be given priority. Those travelling from more ‘safe’ European countries making desperate journeys in small boats will not qualify. By default, they could be rendered illegal.

New Immigration Plan will criminalise asylum seekers arriving on small boats in the English Channel
The new plan will criminalise asylum seekers [Photo: Matthew Childs]

However, the policy seems to overlook the reality of seeking asylum. Asylum seekers are forcibly displaced from their country by factors including war and persecution, however, it is not limited to just these things. Instead of supporting people’s fundamental right to protection, this system solely focuses on the route taken. This, therefore, criminalises the majority of people who flee conflict and persecution by any means necessary, but are not trapped in ‘war zones’.

It is potentially impossible to suggest that someone fleeing persecution would need to ask their own government for papers.

As part of the proposed plan, applications will be approved overseas, to avoid people arriving in the UK illegally and having to be deported. This could however create unfeasible situations for people looking for refuge. It is potentially impossible to suggest that someone fleeing persecution would need to ask their own government for papers, or try and attempt to reach a British embassy in a war zone – the only supposed ‘legal’ route available.

Home Secretary Priti Patel says the plan will lead to big changes. She said: ‘We will continue to encourage asylum via safe and legal routes whilst at the same time toughening our stance towards illegal entry and the criminals that endanger life by enabling it.’

Those from countries of instability and conflict will have priority over those from ‘safe’ European countries.

As stated by the Refugee Convention, a piece of international human rights law, you can’t criminalise the asylum process due to the manner of entry.

Priti Patel's 'New Plan for Immigration' will offer residency only to refugees who enter via 'legal' route
Priti Patel’s ‘New Plan for Immigration’ will offer residency only to refugees who enter via ‘legal’ route [Photo: Source]

12,000 unaccompanied minors have risked their lives to enter the UK since 2010

The government have also not made it clear whether refugee status could be removed under the new rules. Current indefinite leave to remain documents, last updated in 2019, state that ILR can be revoked if a holder is no longer thought to be a refugee.

If the removal policy remains the same, even those entering the UK through approved routes could have their residency revoked at any time, if their situation changes. This false hope could place many vulnerable people back in danger.

An example of this recently occurred in Denmark. At the beginning of March, 94 Syrian refugees were stripped of their residency status and ordered to return, after officials deemed the capital Damascus to be ‘safe’.

The Danish Immigration Minister, Mattias Tesfaye stated that their residence was temporary, highlighting that it can be withdrawn when it is no longer needed.

As Priti Patel describes the New Plan for Immigration as ‘firm but fair’, questions are being raised over just how fair the system towards refugees. When rights and safety are conditional on a non-existent binary, it will only further fuel the damaging ‘good refugee’/ ‘illegal migrant’ rhetoric.

[Featured Image: Source]