Refugee report


November 2022

This is a report on the current situation with refugees, a topic which is causing a great deal of political heartache at present. We are grateful to group member Andrew for the work in compiling this.

Into November and Suella Braverman is back as Home Secretary, which will have implications for refugees and asylum seekers. The plan to send failed asylum seekers to Rwanda has been shelved (and the companies contacted to carry the deportees have all withdrawn or refused), but the Prime Minister has declared himself in favour of the plan.  In his campaign to lead his party he also put forward a 10-point plan on immigration designed to increase the number of deportations. Possible new locations have been posited – Belize, Paraguay and Peru have been named, but all have declared themselves not to be discussing the matter.  Hi Fly and Iberojet are still possible carriers but are under pressure to decline. The future of the scheme remains questionable, as the High Court has still to decide on its lawfulness.

There has been much debate about the numbers of Albanians arriving in the UK in recent months, and particularly about the number claiming to have been trafficked. The Home Office have argued that a) economic migrants have been using this as an excuse and b) Albania is not a state which has security issues.  The Albanian Prime Minister has also attacked the UK government for denigrating his country, but it remains that a large percentage of Albanian claimants have been accepted as genuine. Discussions between the countries continue.  It is worth noting that the countries most detainees assumed to be involved with trafficking are Albania, Eritrea and Iran.

The continuing arrival of refugees and asylum seekers on small boats remains in the news.  With nearly 40,000 arrivals this year, the chief problem is processing the newcomers.  Events at the Manston short term holding facility have been much reported on, but numbers now have dropped back towards a more ”normal” 1600 staying 24 hours, rather than 4000 detained for weeks.  The facility is intended to process all arrivals, not just refugees.  The Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration has been checking conditions here and at hotels used by the Home Office to house new arrivals, and concerns have been expressed that these are not fit to house unaccompanied children.

The IPPR say that the increase in numbers arriving on small boats (which was none in 2018!) is likely due to “a combination of increased securitisation among other routes (e.g. lorries), the UK’s withdrawal from the Dublin regulation and a “snowball effect”’.  The Dublin Regulation made it possible to return arrivals to their first point of landing in the EU, but the UK can no longer employ the provision since Brexit.

On the last day of 2019, there were 307 individuals held in prisons under immigration powers.  By the last day of 2020 this had increased to 519, and a year later it was 602.  As of January 2022 that figure stood at 304, three times the amount it was in 2019.

For an overall perspective on numbers, it is worth noting that the UNHCR estimates the global number of refugees at 21.3 million, plus 4.6 million asylum seekers.  1 .4 million claims for asylum are pending, of which 0.5% are in the UK (for comparison, about half the number for Germany).

Over 90% of people referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) from immigration detention are victims of trafficking, says a new report.  The referrals into the NRM by ‘first responders’ included survivors of slavery, trafficking and torture. Rule 34 stipulates that every detained person must have a mental and physical examination within 24 hours of admission to an Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) – however, survivors have often been overlooked

The Home Office routinely detains people who are subject to immigration control, the majority of whom are released.  However, under the Home Office Detention Centre rules, a person has to undergo screening to be ‘fit’ for detention, as well as to identify survivors of trafficking and modern slavery.

report by the Helen Bamber Foundation, a charity that helps survivors of trafficking and torture, found that survivors are detained either after imprisonment, with many having being convicted for offences they were forced to commit by their traffickers, and/or because they do not have permission to remain in the UK.  Many survivors of trafficking are detained for removal after being picked up during raids on brothels, nail bars and cannabis farms.

The biggest problem with asylum seekers, however, is still the delay in processing arrivals.  As a measure of the extent of the backlog, on the last day of 2019, there were 307 individuals held in prisons under immigration powers.  By the last day of 2020 this had increased to 519, and a year later it was 602.  As of January 2022 that figure stood at 304, three times the amount it was in 2019.  In terms of delays in the system, Home Office figures show that in 2015 80% of cases were decided within 6 months.  By 2018, this had fallen to 56% and by 2022 to 7%.  96% of 2021 arrivals have not yet got an assessment.

Other continuing issues include extending the offer to Ukrainian applicants for refugee status (very few are claiming asylum status) for another year. 140,000 visas have been issued so far, just under half the total (Hong Kong accounts for another quarter).

Amnesty is planning to ring fence much of its income before the end of the year to support its campaign in Ukraine. This is explained in the monthly newsletter.

AH

Government’s attitudes to human rights


The new government under Rishi Sunak does not bode well for human rights in the UK

October 2022

Rish Sunak was appointed the new prime minister yesterday (25 October 2022) and it is worth looking at his, and some of his minister’s, approaches to human rights. They are not promising. The key people are, in addition to the prime minister, Suella Braverman (Home Office) and Dominic Rabb (Justice Dept). All three have made a range of statements and speeches which, taken together, set out a decidedly negative attitude to our rights.

Sunak is a keen supporter of the Rwanda policy to deport people to Africa, indeed he wants to double the number sent and one means is to reduce the qualifying gaol term from 12 to 6 months which will apply to immigrants who commit crime. He wants to tighten the definition of who qualifies for asylum in the UK. He wants to increase powers to detain, tag and monitor illegal immigrants.

He is a keen supporter of repealing the Human Rights Act claiming in an interview that ‘human rights law was acting as an obstacle for government’ and ‘making it difficult [for the government] to achieve our objectives’. He also voted against the retaining the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Suella Braverman is back as Home Secretary only just having resigned a matter of days ago for having breached the ministerial code. We have reported before on her highly manicured cv including the claim that she had contributed to the writing of a legal textbook, the actual author of which said that she did help with some photocopying.

She too is keen to end the HRA and extricate the UK from the European Court of Human Rights. She claims there is now a ‘rights culture’ and that this has caused confusion and distress in some areas. She wants to introduce a permission stage to claims to ‘limit trivial human rights cases wasting the courts’ time and public money’.

Dominic Raab is back as the Justice Secretary and in a previous post we reviewed his book Assault on Liberty. He agrees with the above policies. The book is useful because it enables us to examine the thinking and beliefs which many politicians share. They have this profound belief in liberty which they see as threatened by protest and human rights. They think that there has been too much focus on individual rights at the expense of collective responsibilities. Sunak seems to believe that these rights prevent good government in ways that are not exactly clear.

They are supported in their beliefs by much of the press with a steady stream of anti-immigrant stories particularly focused on people crossing the Channel in boats. To what extent this represents the views of the general population is a moot point. Among the population at large, according to YouGov, they are not happy with the government’s approach to the boat people. It is however, a much more salient issue among Conservative supporters where there is pressure to limit the crossings.

With all three top positions occupied by politicians with these beliefs we can look forward to further aggressive moves against immigrants and asylum seekers. It is ironic to note however, that two of them are offspring of people who came here from overseas and made successful lives for themselves. Both had parents who, having settled here, were sufficiently successful to enable both to receive good educations and succeed in the law (Braverman) and the City (Sunak). Sunak went to Winchester one of the elite public* schools in Britain.

Note for US readers: ‘public’ schools are in fact private and Winchester is one of the most expensive in the UK.

Sources: Each Other; Save Our Citizenship; They Work for You; the Guardian; Conservative Home; the Spectator; Daily Mail; Refugee Action; Amnesty International

UPDATE: 28 October. The following is a link to EachOther with a more detailed analysis of the above three plus two other members of the cabinet with similar views. Again, we note that two of them are offspring of immigrants welcomed here.

Refugees, monthly report


Monthly report on the month’s developments in the UK – October 2022

With Parliament in recess over the period under review, little movement in the legal position of asylum seekers and refugees has taken place, but this will change from here on. The legality of the contentious plan to deport “failed” asylum seekers to Rwanda (notoriously a “dream” for the new Home Secretary) should be decided by the end of this month. The last batch of evidence is being heard today (12 October). The issue is expected to go to appeal, whichever way it is decided. A good summary of the position can be read here.

Much ink has been spilt on trying to figure out Ms Braverman’s plans, though her speech to the Conservative Party conference was not strong on detail. She has declared an interest in doing a deal with the French on boats (this may not be as easy as it sounds, but she has claimed that talks with the French have reduced the numbers by half. This is disputed). She is also keen to leave the European Convention on Human Rights (though the PM evidently isn’t).

The Home Secretary is also much exercised by Albania, as the numbers of Albanian asylum seekers has increased dramatically, and Albanians are known to be among the traffickers of migrants. However, more applicants from that country are being accepted than used to be the case, which suggests that Braverman’s claim that a lot of them are criminals pretending to be trafficking victims may not be true. For trafficking victims generally, more are being detained than was the case, but most are then found to be genuine.

Indeed, as noted previously, the rate of acceptance of asylum seekers’ claims is ever higher, from 4% in 1997 (plus 4% of the rest on appeal) to 76% now (plus 50% of the rest on appeal). Technical factors may account for some of this, but the change is remarkable.

Meanwhile, new refugees (now apparently termed “arriving passengers”) continue to land from small boats. This year so far (to 3rd October) 33,573 people have arrived here. Last year’s total figure was 28,526. The three biggest originating countries have been Albania, Afghanistan and Iran.

On the Ukrainian front, as of 4th October, 134,200 refugees had arrived here. A report from the Work Rights Centre has indicated difficulties with the support they are given; the housing scheme has seen a quarter of hosts withdraw after the 6 month initial period, due mainly to cost causing a big increase in homelessness among the community. Following the resignation some weeks ago of the minister in charge of government support for the Ukrainian arrivals, there has been no one in authority, it seems.

On a related topic, Russian men escaping the draft, although few in number, have raised issues of the extent to which refusing to fight is a refugee matter. The EU has a right to be a conscientious objector, but the debate is likely to range around the right to refuse to participate in war crimes.

AH

Refugees in the UK


Report on refugee and asylum issues in the UK

September 2022

The change of Prime Minister this month has led to changes at the Home Office. The new minister, Suella Braverman, will have initially to deal with the question of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda, the issue of which is still under judicial review. The hearings have started this week.  The new Prime Minister, Liz Truss has declared her support for the plan, indeed suggesting its extension to other countries.  An aide told the Mail on Sunday: “She’s determined to see the Rwanda policy through to full implementation as well as exploring other countries where we can work on similar partnerships.”  It would not seem likely that the new Home Secretary will mark much of a change from her predecessor.

Despite the legal challenge, the government plans to deport 19 people to Rwanda in the coming days. Information shared by charities indicates that six were trafficked or tortured, including one who was detained and beaten for eight weeks at a warehouse in the Libyan Desert.

Medical Justice have this week published “Who’s Paying The Price?: The Human Cost Of The Rwanda Scheme”, a comprehensive analysis of people targeted for removal to Rwanda which details medical evidence of the harm inflicted on them.  The charity says: “The policy is damaging in general for anyone, acutely so for such vulnerable torture and trafficking survivors who are already paying a high human cost even before any flights have taken off to Rwanda.”

As one of the side issues to the debate, the charity Freedom from Torture is directing public attention on to the airlines who are or are intending to facilitate the flights.

Another central element of the immigration plan – the setting up of new processing centres for asylum seekers – also appears to have stalled after the Ministry of Defence admitted to the Observer that, despite evaluating 100 different sites for the Home Office since January, it has yet to publicly identify a new one that might be used. The only site named so far as “asylum accommodation” – in Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire – was abandoned after the Home Office failed to move any asylum seekers there and the MoD withdrew from the plan.

The Observer has revealed that the government is considering reintroducing its notorious refugee pushback policy for use against small boats crossing the Channel.  Five months ago, after the heavily criticised policy was officially withdrawn by ministers, documents released under freedom of information laws suggest the government is reconsidering the tactic that has been blamed for drownings in Greece.

The numbers arriving in the country by boat continues to grow, to over 25,000 this year, given the good weather.  3,733 people crossed the Channel during the week to 28 August – twice as many for all of 2019.

Acceptances

What has been notable has been the large number of acceptances by the Home Office of asylum seekers’ claims.  New rules on inadmissibility have added to the time taken to process asylum seekers, but the proportion of acceptances in the long term remains high.

A large number of Albanians has, however been returned on the grounds that the country Is safe.  The government has been endeavouring to set up returnee agreements with other countries to facilitate repatriation; at present they have 5, the latest of which is with Pakistan.

By comparison with other European nations, the total number of asylum applications in the UK since 2012 has been 386,000, the 6th largest in Europe.

Outside of the refugee influx, more work visas have been issued to arrivals from India than any other nation (Ukraine is the next largest).

The Afghan emergency last year resulted in 16,000 nationals being brought over here.  Of these, 9000 are still living in hotel accommodation.

The total number of Ukrainian refugees now in the UK is 115,000.  Visas issued under the Family and Sponsorship schemes total 177,000.  For comparison, Germany has so far taken in 971,000 Ukrainians.  The UK government has, however, indicated that host households will have their “thank you” payments doubled to £700 per month.

AH


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Rwanda policy


August 2022

A judge has ruled that six passages redacted from a policy statement concerning the removals policy to Rwanda must be revealed. Ten passages had been so redacted and the Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, had applied to the court for them not to be released using public interest immunity. Several newspaper groups have applied to the court and today (17 August 2022) they were successful.

The human rights situation in Rwanda is poor. Several human rights groups have described excessive state control, political opposition not being tolerated and the arbitrary mistreatment of children, sex workers and street vendors. Torture is practised and there are suspicions of people being murdered.

The government hopes to use the deportations to Rwanda as a deterrent for the people crossing the Channel, a problem which has increased month on month.

The first flight was planned to go from Boscombe Down airfield a mile or two from where this is being written. The European Court overruled the government and the plane left the following day, empty. It will be interesting to read what the redacted passages contain. It is known that Foreign Office officials raised concerns and recommended that we do not get involved with the country.

Nationality and Borders bill to become law


The Nationality and Borders bill was passed by parliament yesterday

Despite widespread criticism – including from its own backbenchers – the Nationality and Borders bill was passed by parliament on 27 April 2022. The bill has been contentious from the start and there were doubts that it would actually reach the stature book.

One of its principle aims has been to reduce people smuggling. It is highly unlikely to achieve that. Indeed, several of its aims, according to a wide range of critics, are unlikely to be achieved and even made worse.

It is truly a bleak day for refugees fleeing conflict and persecution

Amnesty International

By making it next to impossible to claim asylum from outside the UK, the government has created the perfect conditions for smuggling to survive. The idea that you cure a problem by simply outlawing it seems to be deep rooted in the Home Office and by the Home Secretary. The experience of banning alcohol in the US – which led directly to a massive increase in crime and bootlegging – and declaring drugs illegal, which has led to a multi-billion pound/dollar drug industry, seems lost on the government. The harder the government makes it for people fleeing conflict or persecution, the more the smugglers will step in to sell their wares. Yet Priti Patel seems to believe the opposite.

People arriving on the coast of Kent in flimsy boats and dinghies, led to a tabloid outrage and as ever, prompted the government to introduce bills such as this and to propose the Rwanda programme.

The Salisbury MP, John Glen, voted in favour of the bill.

Migrants to be sent to Rwanda under new scheme


Priti Patel launches new scheme to transfer migrants to Rwanda

The government is caught in pincer movement as far as immigration and asylum seekers are concerned. On the one hand are those seeking to cross the Channel in small boats or dinghies, who are to be deterred at all costs, and on the other are those fleeing the war in Ukraine who the public want to be treated sympathetically.

The Home Secretary Priti Patel announced today (14 April 2022) a scheme with an initial cost of £120m to fly immigrants to Rwanda where they will be ‘supported to build a new and prosperous life in one of the fastest growing economies recognised globally for its record on welcoming and integrating migrants’. Home Office press release 14 April 2022.

Perhaps there are two Rwanda’s: one in the imagination of the Home Secretary and the other which exists in the real world. The real world version is a long, long way from the idyllic country Ms Patel and the prime minister seem to imagine. The Amnesty country report in 2021/22 has a long list of human rights abuses which include disappearances and the use of torture. The case of Paul Rusesabingina has attracted some international attention. He was abducted from Dubai, tortured for 4 days, held incommunicado for a further 3 days and denied access to his lawyers for 6 weeks. Confidential documents from his lawyers were illegally confiscated.

The country has failed to ratify the Convention against Enforced Disappearance and there has been a lack of independent investigation into a number of deaths in custody.

There has been extensive use of the Israeli firm’s Pegasus Spyware which has been used against activists, journalists, political opponents, foreign politicians and diplomats.

Human Rights Watch report a lack of credible investigations into enforced disappearances or suspicious deaths in custody. They report the use of arbitrary detention, ill-treatment and torture in official and unofficial detention facilities and fair trial standards are regularly flouted.

The Conservative MP Rory Stewart, interviewed on the BBC’s PM programme, doubts if anyone will be sent to the country. The idea is intended, he believes, to be a stunt to detract attention from the government’s woes at present with both the prime minister and the chancellor having been issued fines by the Metropolitan Police as part of the ‘partygate’ scandal. Let us hope he is right although it is reported Priti Patel flew to Rwanda yesterday (13 April) to seal the deal. The long term costs are not known.

It is not clear who will administer the places where the migrants will be housed: the UK or Rwandan authorities. If it is the latter, then there is a high risk that they will be subject to abuse and mistreatment if their record with their own population is repeated.

The policy is reprehensible on many fronts and panders to popular opinion. The Daily Mail online has a number of below the line comments including ‘I think this is a great policy’ and ‘Great idea, well done government, its (sic) time to do something about it.’ The most popular, attracting 13,362 likes [accessed circa 18:15] from Jaygee in Bucks UK: ‘Let’s put it to a referendum. Probably 75% in favour, snowflakes 25%’. The overwhelming level of comments was favourable for the policy. Several comments refer approvingly of the Danish scheme to send people to Rwanda – which is no doubt where the Home Office got its ideas from – but whether the Danes have actually sent anyone is not at present clear. A similar scheme where Israel sent migrants to Rwanda was abandoned.

The migrant problem is greatly exaggerated. Britain receives many fewer refugees and asylum seekers – around 0.02% of the global total – than other comparable countries. We make it almost impossible to come here legally (hence the fuss over difficulties for Ukrainians) which leads to desperate measures in the Channel. Overall, migrants are a net benefit to the country as a number of Home Office studies have shown. As a wealthy country we have a moral obligation to ‘do our bit’ for the international crisis of people fleeing conflict, war or persecution. The government has allowed itself to be driven by tabloid stories which are often exaggerated and overtly hostile to those seeking to come here.

A shameful policy, of doubtful legality, expensive and very unlikely to work in practice. It is very revealing of a mindset however and is unworthy of a country which aspires to be an influence for good in the world.

CORRECTION: Rory Stewart is no longer an MP.

Sources: BBC; Amnesty International; HRW; Home Office; Daily Mail

Nine problems with the asylum system that Priti Patel can’t blame on anyone else — Page Array – Free Movement


Priti Patel has Been Very Clear that the problems in the asylum system are other people’s fault (including me and my “activist lawyer” colleagues) and that her Package Of New Measures will sort them out. But what do the government’s own experts think? Well, yesterday the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration released a…

Nine problems with the asylum system that Priti Patel can’t blame on anyone else — Page Array – Free Movement

This is a republished post.

Immigration talk in Southampton


Caroline Nokes MP speaks candidly to the Southampton Amnesty group

Immigration, refugees and asylum seekers are a toxic subject in the UK and the situation seems to be getting worse not better.  This week, the home secretary, Priti Patel announced fresh measures to address the ‘problem’ which many have argued are both unnecessary and unworkable.  Immigrants in all forms are seen as a problem despite the many studies showing that they are net benefit to the country.  Many aspects of our society would almost cease to function without their contributions: the NHS would have to scale down drastically; horticulture and agriculture would suffer, food preparation would almost come to a standstill. 

Other countries have problems that dwarf ours – Turkey, Jordan and Greece for example have millions between them.  The number of asylum cases has diminished since 2002, but the government, stoked up by a fairly relentless right wing media campaign of stories real and imagined, has acted in a relentless hostile fashion.  The Home Office has become a byword for inefficiency, harsh decisions and aggressive actions of which the Windrush scandal is just one example. 

The Southampton Amnesty group invited Caroline Nokes MP to speak and this is a note of her talk to them. 

Caroline Nokes MP left the Home Office, vowing never to speak of immigration again.  But after a year her anger at the direction immigration was taking drove her to take action which she set out in a recent article in the Independent Newspaper.  A number of AI members from the Romsey and Southampton Groups had read this article and as a result invited Caroline to a joint virtual meeting.  At the meeting on the 4th March, Caroline gave a frank exposition of her views of the Home Office’s current approach, a summary of which is outlined below.  This article has been read by Caroline and its accuracy confirmed.

Home Office’s Attitude/Approach to immigration

This is very dependent on the attitude/approach of the Home Secretary.  Caroline felt that when Sajid Javid and Amber Rudd had been Home Secretary they were determined to learn the lessons of Windrush and give the Home Office a more “human face”.  More recently, the HO appears not to have made progress on this initiative, and asylum claims in particular seen as “work in progress” not people.  She expressed her concerns about the lack of resources given to the asylum system and that staff were junior.

Determinations

Decisions about whether or not to grant refugee status take far too long.  The target is 6 months, but the reality is closer to several years.  The system does not work well and is poorly served by ineffective lawyers.  She had recently heard young applicants complain about the interpreters available to them, as the issue is not just about language but also “style”.  In Caroline’s view, the system at the moment is too black and white.  No account seems to be taken at this stage that it is possible further documentation may become available.  The only way to consider additional information is via appeals, which prolongs the process.  A system needs to be developed which takes into account the difficulty of getting all the documents together, the trauma that the asylum seeker may be going through and the need for keeping to a six-month limit as far as possible.

Right to work

In her view the right to work would not need to change if the determinations met the points raised above.  She felt that this would be preferable to allowing asylum seekers to work which would cause complications with the benefits system.

Accommodation:

She did not think ex-army barracks were a good option, but were better than the “pop-up” camp being proposed at Barton Stacey*.  The Barton Stacey proposal for 500 asylum seekers in cabins has shown a complete disregard for planning rules. There would be no facilities, all resources would have to brought in, including water, and waste would have to be removed by tankers.  All power would need to be provided by noisy generators.  There are no specific health facilities, it is close to a very busy dual carriageway and close to an army range with the sound of gun fire!  There has been no discussion with local experts such as the Southampton and Winchester Visitors Group.

A motivation for the HO proposing such camps appears to be about making an unattractive destination for asylum seekers.  However, Caroline pointed out that this would be unlikely to happen as there are three factors which makes the UK an attractive destination for asylum seekers i.e. the language, family ties and the fact that the UK still has a positive reputation internationally.

Future

Caroline was asked how she saw the future as far as this area was concerned.  She said she was concerned at the narrative around migration/asylum, which certainly in sections of the tabloid media contained a vein of racism.  For example, Nigel Farage had claimed recently that a boat full of immigrants had arrived in the UK all of them Covid 19 positive. This was not true!  It was clear Ministers believed the country was on their side when they talked tough about changing the asylum system.

She was very clear that she did not feel the Dubs amendment would pass if it was brought back.

The HO has promised to bring forward a new asylum bill.  The HO appears to have two main reasons why they want to do this.  Firstly they believe the current system is broken and in particular there are too many appeals.  Secondly, since we left the EU the Dublin agreement no longer applies to the UK.  Caroline believes it is indeed broken because determinations take far too long. 

What can be done to ensure a more humane asylum system

The first point Caroline made was that asylum applications in this country were very small approximately 40,000 per year compared to say Germany with upwards of 100,000 per annum.  We need to lobby our MPs write to local press and show that not everyone buys into the negative narrative.

Caroline referred to one positive move that was taking place in Westminster under the Chairmanship of the Bishop of Durham called RAMP.  It is a cross party project.  We must learn the lessons of Windrush and change the negative narrative.

*Barton Stacey is a village north of Winchester and not far from Andover in the UK. 

We are grateful to the Southampton Amnesty group for sending us this text.

Conservative immigration policies ‘morally wrong’


While the somewhat absurd leaks from the Home Office about wave machines in the Channel, using redundant ferries as holding centres, or sending refugees to Moldova, Morocco – or at enormous cost even to Ascension Island, 4000 miles away – may not be true, these stories do at least give an indication of the mindset of the authorities charged with dealing with a continuing flow of migrants across the Channel to this country.  It seems likely that these proposals were put out to cause alarm, so that when real ones come out, they will be regarded as relatively mild.

Use of the Navy has also been touted: Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s Refugee and Migrant Rights Programme Director, said:

Deploying the Navy to prevent people exercising their right to seek asylum in the UK would be unlawful, reckless and dangerous.  It is wholly legitimate for people to seek asylum in this country – even though relatively few people do – and sadly, for some, these dangerous journeys are the only means available.

Meanwhile, the senior civil servant at the Home Office has stated that “all options are on the table.”  This suggests that either (a) they don’t have a clue what to do or (b) all options are equally valid, so they don’t care.  Ms Patel’s speech to the Conservative Party conference today [4 October 2020] will give a sense of her ideas, but she starts from the assumption that the system is “broken”; it may be that her proposals will take some time to emerge.

The government are believed to be keen to follow the methods employed by recent Australian governments in keeping prospective immigrants in offshore holding camps.  But, as Andonea Jon Dickson explains, “a main function of [the Australian] Operation Sovereign Borders is the interception of boats at sea and their forced return to offshore immigration or their origin.  This conflicts with the Refugee Convention (1951) and Protocol (1967) in a number of ways, not least by denying a right to asylum.

The UK has been removing asylum seekers to France this year as part of a European Union policy that allows one member state to return asylum seekers to another.  When the UK leaves the EU on December 31, however, this policy will no longer apply.  There is nothing yet to suggest France would be willing to continue to accept these asylum seekers.  Lawyers have also recently exposed how the UK has been removing asylum seekers to France illegally without providing an asylum procedure.”

While there are distinctions to be made between refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants (in terms of the threats they face at home), to the general public they will be seen as one group, dangerous or benign according to taste (and, according to a recent YouGov poll 49% of people here have admitted they have little or no sympathy for those crossing the Channel on dangerous boats).

Once again, an inconvenience has been turned into an existential threat.  In 2019, the average rate of asylum applications in the EU was 14 per 100,000 residents.  In the UK it was 5 per 100,000.  So, although, for example, the universality of the English language is a ‘pull factor’ for migrants, it isn’t that significant, and most migrants have a clear view of where it is best for them to aim for.

Dan O’Mahoney, the preposterously titled ‘Clandestine Channel Threat Commander’ – whose job is to work on “legislative, legal and operational barriers” to migrants – said Border Force is continuing to “crack down on the criminal gangs responsible”.  The total number of migrants crossing the Channel this year is around 7,000 so far (it is reckoned that 84,000 attempts to enter were made in 2015), so the crisis may not be quite as great as suggested.  In any case, putting the blame on the traffickers as procurers is pointless – they may be heartless, but they are not the cause.

Ms Patel may be playing to her gallery, or she may genuinely dislike enterprising Third World migrants, but inhumane policies cannot just be defended on political grounds, as they have a moral context.

Ian Dunt, of politics.co.uk makes the point: 

These proposals are unkind.  They are morally wrong, regardless of their efficacy or legality.  They lack compassion, a basic ethical temperament which it is not fashionable to talk about but forms a fundamental requirement of government decision-making.  2 October 2020

Amnesty International has been working for many years with other organisations, nationally and internationally, in the fields of refugees and asylum seekers.  We campaign for a world where human rights can be enjoyed by everyone, no matter what situation they are in. Amnesty has championed the human rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants for decades.  We campaign to make sure governments honour their shared responsibility to protect the rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants.  We condemn any policies and practices that undermine the rights of people on the move.

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