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Plans for reform of the asylum system

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Plans for reform of the asylum system

We at Asylum Welcome are deeply concerned by the plans to reform the asylum system announced on 24th March by the Home Secretary. We welcome the commitment to change the asylum system and to reduce the huge and increasing delays within it, but are worried that it will do this by reducing the rights and opportunities that people seeking sanctuary need and have a right to.

The overall tone of the Plan, as laid out by Home Secretary Priti Patel yesterday here and which you can read in full here, is one of the UK being flooded by “illegal” refugees, when we actually receive far fewer than most European countries. The implication is that the limitations of our asylum system are their fault rather than ours. That is far from our experience. The Plan very clearly divides refugees into welcome and unwelcome, according to how they arrive in the UK rather than based on the legitimacy of their claim for asylum. We know that such an approach would have risked excluding some of most desperate clients.

The document includes the following key proposals on asylum reform:

  • Repeating the government’s commitment to resettling refugees without outlining any targets on numbers to be resettled.

  • Providing enhanced levels of protection to resettled refugees, including permanent leave to remain and enhanced family reunion rights.

  • Reducing the level of protection for refugees who arrive via irregular routes, by limiting their access to welfare benefits and family reunion rights, and requiring them to be reassessed by the Home Office every 30 months.

  • Replacing current arrangements for accommodation with reception centres in the south of England.

  • Removing the current margin of error policy whereby Immigration Officers decide to treat those claiming to be children as adults make age assessment decisions about people seeking asylum.

  • Changing the way that asylum decisions are made and fast-tracking appeals for certain categories of applicants.

  • Keeping the door open to allow offshore processing in the future.

Asylum Welcome is very supportive of the commitment to continue organised resettlement programmes, though we are disappointed at the lack of detail in terms of scope, numbers and timing. Under these schemes, refugees already in countries such as Lebanon and Jordan are identified by UNHCR as being particularly needy, then selected through the Home Office to come to Britain. They are a valuable part of our system but many people fleeing violence or persecution won’t ever be able to access them and they will only help a small minority of people in need of, and if they get to the U.K., entitled to sanctuary. We are disappointed not to see progress on family reunification or accepting unaccompanied children.

The desire to reduce dangerous cross channel crossings is shared by all, but the increased presumption that anyone who comes to the U.K. other than through official routes is illegitimate is a dangerous and damaging one. Some commentators are suggesting that it is unlawful in that it breaches the UN refugee convention requirement not to judge a claimant’s claim based on how they come to the country.

We will make our views known through the official consultation process and encourage you to do the same. The consultation is short and only lasts for six weeks. The link to the consultation document is here. You can respond on line.

But it won’t be enough to only work through the Home Office official consultation. We will talk to our clients and seek to amplify their voices and will work with other organisations to apply whatever pressure we can. We are already in touch with local MPs and we ask you to express your own views to them and through any other channels you are able. 

We will update our website in coming weeks to share more detailed analysis and case studies and to help and encourage our supporters to make their views known. The recruitment of our new Policy and Advocacy Coordinator could not have been timelier.

To find out more about the New Immigration Plan and to keep updated about what you can do, please visit our Borders Bill 2021 page on our website. 

Mark Goldring