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THE GOVERNMENT’S NEW PLAN FOR IMMIGRATION

April 29, 2021 5:30 PM
By Margaret

The Government's New Plan for Immigration is a dangerous and inhumane attack on the right to seek asylum. We set out below what the Plan says and why we believe it is wrong.

Objectives

The stated objectives of the Plan are to:

  • Increase the fairness and efficiency of the system and to better protect those (the government sees as) in "genuine" need of asylum
  • To deter illegal entry
  • Remove people more easily

The key proposals are:

An asylum seeker's means of arrival will determine whether they are entitled to protection in the UK, and the level and length of protection that they enjoy

  • Applications of those who have passed through "safe" countries en route to the UK will be considered inadmissible, and the government will seek their rapid removal to that country or to a third "safe" country
  • Applicants who do not arrive in the UK via a resettlement programme (or in ill-defined exceptional cases) and whose applications are successful will receive a lesser form of protection status, less generous entitlements, and limited rights to family reunion
  • Introduction of tougher penalties for people facilitating irregular entry into the country
  • Diversify the existing resettlement programme (but not increase it)

The asylum process will become (more) hostile

  • Individuals may be removed during their claim to an off-shore processing centre (to be agreed with other countries)
  • Support for asylum seekers whilst waiting a decision will be reduced - in particular accommodation will be provided in basic reception centres
  • A more robust approach to age assessment for unaccompanied minors
  • Fast track appeals

Post recognition policy changes

  • Changes to Family Reunion
  • Indefinite leave to remain and enhanced support to resettled persons

Several proposals regarding the treatment of Foreign National Offenders are of concern but are outside the scope of this article. There are also proposals to combat and prevent modern slavery some of which are positive but others which focus on speedy removal may deter individuals coming forward.

WHAT IS WRONG WITH THE PLAN?

Determining asylum claim by means of arrival

No safe and legal route to sanctuary

It is a fundamental tenet of the 1951 Refugee Convention that individuals seeking asylum should have their claims considered fairly and impartially, and that the method of their arrival into a country should not determine how an individual's claim is dealt with. This is because, generally, asylum seekers are not in a position to seek permission in advance to enter a country, and in many cases may not be able to choose which country they end up in.

Asylum seekers are either often fleeing for their lives from countries in upheaval or in situations where their movements are constantly monitored. They are not planning a holiday. The testimony of Kolbassia Hasoussou MBE and others about their journeys to safety here show how inhumane and thoughtless these proposals are (it) "took six or seven months. It was traumatic but I knew the risk I was fleeing was greater than the risk in front of me. There was no legal and safe route I could have taken. In my case when I was fleeing imminent danger, what was I supposed to do? I just had to go and try to save my life".

We believe that proper safe and legal routes to claim asylum can and should be created.

We would like to see Lib Dem proposals such as humanitarian visas adopted nationally (you can read about these here.)

We support the proposals (albeit limited, compared with the Lib Dem approach) in this plan to broaden the scope of the UK's resettlement offer but even if there was a massive expansion of legal routes to asylum, some individuals would still need to use irregular routes to arrive here. We must not allow this fundamental right in the Convention to be taken away.

There is an ill-defined proposal to develop new humanitarian routes to enable the Home Secretary offer discretionary assistance to people still in their own country whose lives are at direct risk. Whilst anything which might assist individuals arrive in the UK safely is welcomed it is unclear what this means in practice and, indeed, whether it is a new proposal.

Return to "Safe" Countries of transit

A key concern of the Government is that many asylum seekers have transited through another country deemed 'safe' and may also have registered to claim asylum there. The Plan proposes that asylum seekers who have travelled through a safe country should be either returned to those countries or to a third safe country.

This is not a new issue. When the UK was part of the EU it was able to return people to EU states under the Dublin Regulation. It is now not able to do so and currently does not have any readmission agreements with any "safe" third countries. Consequently, these proposals are unworkable.

In the short term it will just further delay the processing of a claim whilst the government tried to prove a link and secure readmission.

In the longer term it could have fundamental implications for how asylum seekers are supported in Europe which space does not permit the exploration of here.

Cruel and counter-productive 2-Tier system

Individuals who come to the country to claim asylum outside the Resettlement Programme and were able to stay to have their claim processed would only be granted temporary protection if that claim is successful.

This means that they would lose access to welfare rights (unless destitute) and have limited rights to Family Reunion.

Tougher penalties for individuals assisting irregular arrival

There will be tougher penalties for individuals who assist asylum seekers reach this country. There is no doubt that asylum seekers trying to get to the UK are exploited and have their lives put at risk by unscrupulous individuals wanting to make money out of human misery (although some individuals are genuinely trying to people and not profiteering). But if the government really wanted to break this business model it needs to make it easier for people to get to the UK legally.

The Asylum Process Becomes More Hostile

Removal to off-shore processing

The Government wants to amend the Nationality Immigration & Asylum Act 2002 to make it possible to remove asylum seekers from the UK whilst their claim or appeal is pending thereby having the option to develop off-shore processing facilities such as those used by Australia.

There are major objections to such a proposal. Apart from the difficulty of ensuring appropriate legal advice and judicial oversight, the offshore detention centres used by Australia have become infamous for the damage inflected on individuals and the cost.

Reduction of Support

It is planned to introduce new asylum reception centres to "provide basic accommodation and process claims" and end the use of hotels to accommodate new arrivals who have entered the UK by irregular routes. The Plan says that this will allow for decisions and appeals to be processed "fairly and quickly onsite". There is also a reference to making "fuller use of existing bail powers, which provide for temporary residence conditions, reporting arrangements and monitoring.

We have already seen examples of what basic accommodation will look like at the Napier and Penally barracks where asylum seekers have been kept for months in conditions which have been heavily criticised by Independent Inspectors.

Everyone would agree that it would be good if claims were processed fairly and that this was done quicker. But this is not achieved by effectively imprisoning people in unsafe sub- standard environments. Increased monitoring and reporting only increases the stress on individuals who are already traumatised.

The Government may create:

One-stop process and fast track appeals

The Plan makes numerous references to the length of time it takes to consider claims and subsequent appeals. It argues that this is the fault of the asylum seeker and the agencies trying to support them when in fact these delays are simply the result of the Government failing to adequately invest in a fair and effective system, and support individuals through the process.

Asylum seekers do not want to wait years for decisions - they are forced to do so. Nor do they want to then pursue lengthy appeals but initial decision making is often so poor, and they have so little support at the start, that they may have no choice.

Again, the Plan argues that many appeals are without foundation but its own figures show that of the appeals determined in 2019 44% were upheld - that is a lot of mistakes to make with people's lives.

In order to reduce delays and new claims it proposes a one-stop process so that asylum, human rights and any other protection matters ae submitted early and considered together. Very little weight will be given to any evidence which is presented later on in the process.

There will be a fast track appeal process for claims considered manifestly unfounded or made just prior to removal. Asylum claims and appeals made in detention will be subject to accelerated procedures.

Many asylum seekers have been profoundly traumatised and find it hard to disclose sensitive information early on in the process, particularly if they are using a second language/speaking through interpreters, and in an environment which is clearly unsympathetic.

The enormous cuts to legal advice mean that they don't get the right advice at the right time to ensure they give all the relevant information at the start. The government does propose to provide more generous access to legal advice early in the process. This sounds positive but the devil is in the detail - how generous will it be in practice and could it be set at too low a level to provide enough time for these complex cases?

Another proposal is to take away the right of asylum seekers to choose and instruct (often through their legal adviser) independent experts. They will either have to use a panel of pre-approved experts or someone jointly agreed by themselves and the Home Office. Whilst this sounds uncontroversial it could result in delays but it also implies that medical experts will not provide an honest opinion when there is absolutely no evidence that this is the case.

Destitution and removal

The foundation of the Plan is holding asylum seekers, dealing with their case quickly and then removing those whose claims have been unsuccessful. There is a specific intention to implement existing primary legislation to remove support and render these individuals totally destitute and, of course, still unable to work. This is unlikely to speed up removal and will only increase human suffering.

Post recognition policy changes

Changes to Family Reunion

The Government states that its commitment to consult on the family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children is fulfilled by the consultation accompanying this Plan.

It is not clear what this means in practice. In the document it specifically says it will consider the case for unmarried dependent children under the age of 21 (rather than just 18) to join their parents where both parents are refugees living in the UK. Any improvement to family reunion is to be welcomed but the Plan also states it will put limitations on family reunion for those who arrive irregularly.

Some Positive Proposals

There are some positive proposals in the Plan, such as indefinite leave being granted to resettled people, diversifying the resettlement programme (but not increasing it).

Moreover, the proposed increased support for integration and ESOL are to be welcomed though they will touch on only a small number of people seeking sanctuary.

There are also some helpful proposals in respect of training first responders in identifying victims of modern slavery and providing more support for prevention and the identification of child victims.

But there is also a drive to remove "bogus" claimants sooner which will militate against some victims coming forward.

CONCLUSION

This Plan makes it even more difficult for people to come to the UK and claim asylum. Whilst it says it wants a fairer and quicker system much of it is fundamentally unfair to people who arrive here irregularly and it will reduce in delays as well as creating a sub class of people.

The Liberal Democrats have agreed policies which, if fully implemented, would make the system both fairer and quicker, and also more humane. You can access the policy on safe and legal routes here and our policy documents including on fairer decision making here

We will be working with other agencies to campaign against this Plan and will keep you updated via our Newsletter , our website and other mailings on the developments and what you can do to stop this Plan being enacted.