Issues to do with refugees and immigrants continue to make waves in the UK
The main development post-Christmas 2021 on the UK refugee front has been the announcement of plans for the proposed Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme, originally promised in the Summer. Ministers confirmed that the resettlement scheme will open this month, providing up to 20,000 Afghan women, children, and others most at risk with a safe and legal route to resettle in the UK.
The ACRS will build upon the UK’s continuing efforts to support those at risk, alongside the relocation of British nationals, and those who supported our armed forces through the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP).
The ACRS will prioritise:
- those who have assisted UK efforts in Afghanistan
- extremely vulnerable people such as women and girls at risk and members of minority groups
Minister for Afghan Resettlement, Victoria Atkins, said:
“We are committed to supporting everyone we have evacuated from Afghanistan to make a success of their new life in the UK. I’m very grateful to everyone who has stepped forward to help. The Afghan citizens resettlement scheme provides a safe and legal way for the most vulnerable and at-risk people from Afghanistan to come to the United Kingdom and rebuild their lives, as part of the New Plan for Immigration. Operation Warm Welcome is a huge national effort which could not succeed without the compassion and determination of our partners in local government, the private sector, voluntary organisations and the great British public. “
Further details will be set out this month, but a row has immediately broken out about how many of the refugees are among those already in the UK and whether the “most vulnerable” will be able to be resettled before 2023.
In 2021 a total of 28,300 refugees and asylum seekers arrived in England by boat, three times the number for 2020. The largest number arrived in November, many of them from Afghanistan. The sharp increase in numbers is at least partly accounted for by the reduction in ferry crossings post-COVID and the tighter control of lorries using the Channel Tunnel.
Government figures show that only 1,171 refugees were granted protection through resettlement schemes in the year to September.
Border Force officers are threatening to strike in response to Home Secretary Priti Patel’s Channel “pushback” tactics. The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) said it was “totally opposed” to Patel’s tactics, which would see Border Force jet skis block and redirect migrant boats in the Channel back toward France. Both PCS and the Care4Calais charity have announced they’ll take the Home Office to court over the policy, while PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka said his members could go further by striking and refusing to implement it.
Home Office policy
The Independent revealed that the government has given more than £700,000 to a “migration behaviour change” company that runs communications campaigns targeting asylum seekers in their home countries.
The Home Secretary ‘s latest thinking on asylum seekers seems to be directed at keeping even tighter control of those awaiting decisions. Under the Home Office’s “new plan for immigration”, Patel is expected to announce early in the new year that small boat arrivals will be electronically tagged.
Ministers also hope tagging working-age people will make it harder for them to work illegally while their asylum claims are processed, and make it easier to remove those whose application for asylum has failed. The plan has been described as “desperate and draconian” by the chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants.
The Nationalities and Borders bill continues its progress, having now had a second reading in the Lords. The government’s current emphasis was expressed by Home Office minister Tom Pursglove, who said that the government was reforming its approach to asylum through its new plan for immigration.
“Seeking asylum for protection should not involve people asylum shopping country to country, or risking their lives by lining the pockets of criminal gangs to cross the Channel,” he said. “The nationality and borders bill will make it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK illegally and introduce life sentences for those who facilitate illegal entry into the country. It will also strengthen the powers of Border Force to stop and redirect vessels, while introducing new powers to remove asylum seekers to have their claims processed outside the UK.”
Free Movement have concluded that the changes to the bill have made it worse, mainly in the area of making it more difficult for asylum seekers to get hearings: “This Bill will entrench existing problems: people with a legitimate basis to stay in the UK – and genuine grounds to fear removal – can be removed without effective access to justice. Making it legally easier to remove people from the UK in principle does nothing to make the system any more efficient in practice. Greater effort should be made to increase the quality and accuracy of Home Office decision-making in the first place.”
Bridget Chapman, a blogger and refugee charity worker has noted the Home Office’s claims about the ages of migrants – her comments follow (courtesy of Free Movement)
- The Home Office has suggested that over 1,100 adults have lied and pretended to be child asylum seekers over the past year
- The Home Office has weaponised this claim and has used it to undermine sympathy for young refugees, saying they are not genuine children but predatory adult men
- Actually the figures are misleading anyway because of the completely inappropriate and inadequate ways in which assessments are made after young people arrive
- They are also misleading because many of the age assessments which find them to be adults are subsequently overturned (those pesky activist lawyers again, damn them)
- The Home Office is now promising ‘scientific methods’ for accurately assessing young people’s ages
- These methods don’t exist
- Much of the media are reporting on these ‘scientific methods’ and uncritically regurgitating Home Office press releases
- We should all be really cross about that
- There is a real danger to the many asylum-seeking children who are wrongly assessed as adults and have their safeguarding put at risk as a result
- Those of us working on the ground with young refugees have serious and growing concerns about this.
However, the biggest attacks on the bill have been about Clause 9, the ability of the Home Secretary to remove British citizenship more easily than at present. It has been suggested that this leaves up to 6 million citizens in jeopardy of such an eventuality.
On campaigning, note that the organisers of Refugee Week will be holding their planning conference online on two dates:
Monday 7 February 1030am – 1245pm
Friday 11 February 1030am – 1215pm
Places are available.
Other bills which will have an effect on human rights were discussed in a previous post.