Proposed UK Reforms to Immigration Policy
You may have heard Home Secretary Patel announcing yesterday (24 March) the public consultation on the government’s New Plan for Immigration. The wide-reaching reforms are to be debated in parliament in summer and are allegedly aimed at smashing the criminal gangs which bring those seeking asylum to the UK. Most notable among the reforms is the proposal to differentiate between those arriving through “safe routes” and those who arrive in other ways – regardless of the merits of the individual’s claim.
Unfortunately so much of the language and the information that is given in these debates – whether through government statements or parts of the media – is misleading and incorrect. Given the potentially devastating impact of these proposed reforms, and the fact that there is a public consultation under way, we believe it is important that people are properly informed about the facts and figures about the asylum system. More information and relevant links will be provided in our next newsletter.
Although the language surrounding asylum tends to refer to the system being “in crisis”, last year, some 30,000 people sought asylum in the UK. In comparison to previous years, this number is relatively low – and it also low when compared to other countries, including countries in the EU – eg Germany received 120,000 applications for asylum during the same period.
Over 8,000 of those crossed the English Channel to reach the UK. The largest number of people seeking asylum in the UK came from Iran.
Home Secretary Patel claims that the UK asylum system is broken. Certainly numbers awaiting decisions on their applications have grown significantly. In 2010, nearly 12,000 asylum seekers were waiting to hear if they could stay in the UK. Just before the pandemic hit last year, that number had reached almost 44,000. But this is because cases are taking longer to resolve. Non-governmental organisations and legal firms who support people seeking asylum maintain that this is due to mismanagement of the process over many years and poor quality of decision-making which results in people then seeking a review of the decisions made.
The UK government is a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention – indeed, it was one of its key architects in 1951. Nowhere in the Convention does it state that asylum can be granted on the basis of how one has travelled to a country. Although the government is proposing official routes, it gives no detail about these. Nor does it recognise that, for people who are desperate and fleeing persecution, they will travel in whatever way possible to reach safety. Rather it seeks to make conditions considerably less favourable for those who use routes which are not “official”, even if they have a solid claim. Further, the government will try to send them back to other “safe” countries they have travelled through, even though there is nothing in the Refugee Convention which obliges a person seeking asylum to seek sanctuary in the first safe country they reach. Now that the UK is no longer part of the EU and has therefore left the EU system governing transfers of people being removed, the UK cannot force other EU countries like France or Greece to receive people without permission.
Lastly while the Plan includes important commitments towards, eg family reunification, no numbers are provided.
We encourage our supporters to have their say in the public consultation, open until 6 May 2021. This can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/new-plan-for-immigration. You can also find the New Plan at this link.