CHARITIES have expressed dismay at the Government’s “deeply cruel, dishonest, and inhumane” proposals to refuse anyone who has entered the UK illegally the automatic right to settle.
Under a New Immigration Plan announced on Wednesday, the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, said that, for the first time, asylum-seekers who entered the UK via illegal routes, such as Channel crossings organised by human traffickers, would be regularly reassessed for removal from the UK, would have limited family-reunion rights, and would have no recourse to public funds, except in cases of destitution.
It was in the “moral interest” of the country to restrict illegal immigration, she said.
The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) UK condemned the new process as “deeply cruel, dishonest, and inhumane”. It would not only place vulnerable refugees at risk of removal at any time, its statement said, but “vastly limit” their family reunion rights and access to necessary financial support.
The director of JRS UK, Sarah Teather, said on Wednesday: “The changes being announced are cruel and dishonest. The Government knows full well that those seeking safety are forced to cross borders irregularly. An asylum system designed to penalise this is lying about its purpose.
“Under the 1951 Refugee Convention, of which the UK is a signatory, those seeking asylum are guaranteed the right of entry into a country. The reality for so many seeking sanctuary, including those supported by JRS UK, is that they frequently have no choice but to cross borders irregularly.”
The Children’s Society agreed that refugee status was about safeguarding people who were “fleeing war, persecution and other serious human-rights violations. This should not be based on how they have travelled to the UK.”
The charity’s Policy and Research Manager, Azmina Siddique, expressed particular concern for asylum-seeking children, who, she said, were already under strain having to prove their age to the immigration authorities. “Those we have supported have reported feeling depressed or struggling with their mental health when their age is questioned. Some even turn to self-harm and experience suicidal thoughts.”
In her announcement, Ms Patel had said that a “robust approach to age assessment to ensure we safeguard against adults claiming to be children” would also be introduced under the new proposals. She had also said that the right to appeal would be removed, replaced with “a single assessment upfront”.
Ms Siddique worried that the number of children being placed in adult accommodation and reception centres had increased. “We’ve seen young people mistakenly being told they are in their twenties and instantly taken away from support networks and professionals that they rely on for help. This leaves those children at heightened risk of exploitation and abuse.”
She continued: “The Home Secretary’s justification that the system needs to protect the most vulnerable fails to acknowledge that appeals processes exist for this reason. Too often, we see unaccompanied asylum-seeking children receive very poor initial legal advice. They may suffer from PTSD and only remember important information after receiving therapeutic support. Stripping back the right to appeal is extremely dangerous and could have a disastrous impact on the lives of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and their uncertain futures.”
Under the terms of the Dubs amendment (News, 5 May 2017), 480 places were reserved for child refugees to claim a safe route to asylum in the UK; but these were quickly filled, leading bishops and others to campaign for its extension under the EU Withdrawal Agreement (News, 17 January 2020; 26 June 2020).
Lord Dubs, who brought the original amendment to the Immigration Act 2016, said on Wednesday that the Home Office had closed the only two legal routes for refugee children stranded in Europe, “including lone children and those with family here, to seek asylum in the UK. This is not ‘fair but firm’: it keeps families apart and lacks compassion.”
He continued: “Removing legal routes to safety doesn’t prevent criminality: it fuels it. The day the legal routes for refugee children seeking asylum here was closed was a field day for people traffickers and smugglers who exploit despair.”
The chief executive of Safe Passage International, Beth Gardiner-Smith, said that there was “nothing to celebrate” in the New Immigration Plan. “These proposed reforms will do nothing to prevent dangerous Channel crossings, whilst making the lives of many who have fled war and persecution a misery. It is heartbreaking, too, that the Government seems set to make it more difficult for refugee families to reunite, leaving yet more child refugees stranded and alone.
“If the Government were truly serious about breaking the business model of the traffickers, they would be significantly expanding the safe routes for refugees to seek sanctuary here in the UK so they can reunite with family and rebuild their lives. They should not pushing policies that have already been proven to fail and will cause suffering for so many.”
Dr Anna Rowlands, who is the St Hilda Associate Professor of Catholic Social Thought and Practice in the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University, posted on Twitter on Wednesday: “Priti Patel just blamed refugees who cannot find a ‘legal’ route into the UK for ‘playing into the hands of people traffickers’ & therefore somehow forfeiting a moral right to permanent asylum even if absolutely clear refugees. The inhumanity of this just beggars belief.”
The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, said on Thursday that, while reform of the system was needed, and the commitments for safe and legal routes for refugees and to grow community sponsorship were both welcome, “there are deep concerns that the proposals will create an unhelpful two-tier system, and do not respond to asylum-seekers primarily from asking why they are seeking asylum rather than the route undertaken to reach our country.
“I encourage people to respond to the consultation, as I shall do. The Home Office says it is committed to a culture that is Respectful, Compassionate, Collaborative and Courageous. A key question regarding these proposals is: Do they match up to these? Do they put humanity before programme?”
Online Comment: Sam Wells writes an open letter to Priti Patel