This letter had contributions from 7 people and over 30 emailed to say how pleased they were with it. Thanks to everyone who took the time to help and to all who read and approved.
Sent 29th March 2021
We feel every refugee should be met with compassion regardless of the journey they take to the UK and what they most need are safe and legal routes to sanctuary. The new plans do not offer this -instead they seem to be punishing asylum seekers for taking the only routes they can access as they seek safety from persecution. Indeed are the plans even lawful under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention?
1 Restriction to ‘Official ‘ routes
Our understanding is that these plans state that only refugees arriving via extraordinarily restricted “official” routes, such as the refugee resettlement scheme,[ which seems to be at a standstill currently] will be given the right to live in the UK. To qualify for this most people will have to be in a refugee camp and screened by the UNHCR. This is not available to many who have to flee.
Put simply, people fleeing for their lives have little choice in how they seek safety. People escaping from violence and oppression are often forced to flee with no documents, no identification and no belongings. They cannot use legal routes. We are aware of many individuals in this situation. Also, people may want and need to live in the UK rather than other European countries because of family links, knowing the language or because of a deep-seated belief that Britain upholds human rights and is a safe place.We should be proud that our country has this reputation and we should be grateful for the enormous contribution to our society made by people seeking sanctuary over the past century and more.
We can understand and share the desire to try to stop human trafficking but the measures announced seem to us to be penalising the vulnerable people who are trying to seek safety. If the right to seek asylum is withdrawn for people who do not or cannot use the restricted official routes then they will simply not register a claim and will be very vulnerable to exploitation and modern day slavery. The new proposals will also curtail rights to reunite with family.
If claims were efficiently processed in Calais, Dunkirk and in the Greek camps and then safe transport were arranged, the tragic loss of life in the channel would be eliminated, and overcrowding in the camps reduced and rough sleeping by new arrivals eliminated. .
2 Unaccompanied Children
There is a distinct void in the plan about safe routes to reunite children with families in the UK. Offering them safe routes will prevent them from trying to enter the UK by hiding under a lorry or trying to sail across the channel and allow them to rejoin their families and rebuild their lives. The system to allow them to be reunited and safe needs to be quicker and simpler because delays increase their vulnerability, cause desperation and empower people smugglers and others who seek to profit from their plight.
We also fear the changes outlined for age assessment will increase the risks for children seeking asylum. The suggestion of more ‘scientific ‘checks and that immigration officials and other staff would carry out the assessments removes the expertise of social workers and others. We are aware that current Home Office guidance states that the scientific methods “can only estimate age and as a consequence there will always be a margin for error”. Age assessment is a complex matter and needs experience.
3 Temporary Leave to Remain
We gather that the proposals also mean that some people who are granted refugee status will only have this status temporarily and will be regularly reassessed for deportation. In short, some people will never be able to feel truly safe and will be constantly traumatised by anxiety about the future.
This plan appears to be both inhumane and unworkable at a time when the current back log in determining asylum claims is rising despite reduced numbers of applications.
People given Leave to Remain must be allowed to settle and contribute to our society in a positive way, free from further doubt and peril..
4 Removal and Appeals
The proposal to rapidly remove people by streamlining the appeals system is also concerning as currently over 40% of appeals are successful. It seems that when a traumatised person with poor language skills first makes their claim, they may not properly express their reasons for seeking asylum. This is not surprising given that many may suffer from PTSD, have had previous and traumatic experience of official interviews, are frightened that anything they may say might jeopardise family and friends who remained behind and are conscious that they have little or no documentary proof of their lives and experiences up to the present moment.
The asylum system certainly needs overhauling but streamlining by ignoring people’s needs and situation is not the way to do it.
5. Britain’s record
In almost every news article or letter from the Government there is mention of our proud history of welcoming refugees, but no acknowledgement that the present situation which tends to demonise, dehumanise and disempower people is shameful.
We have written before about our concerns about the language used when referring to
people seeking asylum . For the safety and unity of our communities across Britain, it is vital to avoid any practice which can encourage or spread racism or the demonisation of ‘the other’.The language used by ministers, MPs and government officials it is crucial and must be measured and sensitive.
As an example, Sweden has invested in people seeking protection by supporting access to education and employment since 2015. This has led to significant economic growth in the country and kick-started the regeneration of many areas. This helps to reinforce positive messages and help the host communities to perceive the value and benefit of their asylum policies. Could we follow suit?
The Home Secretary says that the plans she has announced are the changes people want. We know hundreds of people in this area ,HBTSR members and supporters and the very many others who have supported our work and welcomed people seeking sanctuary to their communities who want something very different. We hope that we will have a proud future of welcoming refugees. Sadly, the measures proposed by the government will have the opposite effect.
Please can you offer reassurance that people seeking asylum will have their rights to seek asylum protected? That the 1951 UN Refugee Convention will be followed?
Can we trust the Home Office when they reassured us all many times about the suitability of the barracks accommodation that has been shown by the UK Government’s own Inspectorate to have been far below acceptable standards and contributed to many catching Covid 19? Is this the legacy we are leaving for our children to be proud of?
Finally, HBTSR would be very happy to arrange an [on-line] meeting for you with some of the people associated with our group who are seeking sanctuary and could tell you about their experiences. Please let us know if you would find this useful.
Thank you for your letter, sent on behalf of your group. I very much appreciate you taking the time to outline your views and concerns regarding the Government’s new plans for Immigration that have been unveiled by the Home Secretary.You are right to mention that the United Kingdom has and continues to have, a proud record of helping those fleeing persecution, oppression or tyranny from around the world. I disagree with you that the current system tends to ‘demonise, dehumanise and disempower’ people – Britain often ranks very highly amongst developed nations in its direct and indirect support for the world’s most needy. Alongside providing £10 billion a year to support people through our overseas aid, the UK is a global leader in refugee resettlement. As a country, between 2016 and 2019 we resettled more refugees from outside Europe than any member state of the EU. In total across all Government funded resettlement schemes, the UK has resettled more than 25,000 vulnerable refugees in need of protection over the past 6 years, with around half being children. Over 29,000 family reunion visas have also been issued in the last 5 years. I appreciate that we do see a handful of discouraging cases, where images shown in the media and online can create the false impression that the UK has abandoned its sense of compassion in this area, however, that is not the case at all.
As you will be aware, the Home Office has published the New Plan for Immigration which seeks to retain this compassionate approach and combine it with increased fairness, firmness and efficiency. I welcome the ambition to see an asylum system based on need, to better protect and support those who require our help most. You will be reassured to know that the Government is strengthening the safe and legal routes for refugees and fixing historic anomalies in British Nationality law. The Government is also committed to ensuring that resettlement programmes are responsive to emerging international crises and that persecuted minorities are represented. The Plan also helps refugees once they have settled in the UK through support to integrate into society, help in accessing employment and sponsorship programmes.
A key objective of the Plan is also to deter and prevent illegal entry into our country. By cracking down on illegal immigration, we can prioritise those in genuine need, which I hope that your group will agree with. This will help prevent people making dangerous and unnecessary journeys to the UK through potentially fatal means in small boats or aeroplanes, for example. It also aims to halt the business model of criminal trafficking networks and protect those who are in danger of being trafficked. By ensuring that legal routes are accessible, we are better able to safeguard these vulnerable people.
I can reassure you that the proposals comply with our global obligations including commitments to the European Convention on Human Rights, the Refugee Convention and the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. You may also be interested to know that the Home Office has launched a consultation to gain insight from stakeholders and members of the public to inform their strategy. I know Ministers are seeking widespread engagement and I would encourage you and any member of your group to take part and ensure your voice is heard. You can do so at the following link – https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/new-plan-for-immigration.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me and I appreciate your passionate contributions in this area.
If there is anything further that my team and I can assist you with, please do let me know.
With best wishes