Today
Thu 6 May 2021

In an open letter, refugee rights and human rights charities have accused the Home Office consultation on changes to immigration policy as failing to consider the priorities of people seeking asylum

Nearly 200 organisations supporting the rights of refugees and people seeking asylum have signed an open letter calling the Government’s consultation into changes to refugee policy a “sham”.

Last month, the Home Secretary announced sweeping changes to how the Government will treat refugees seeking safety in the UK. These include deporting people to third countries, holding refugees in warehouse-style ‘reception centres’ and forcing people to reapply for protection every 30 months. 

But the open letter called the plans a “half-baked manifesto” of “vague, unworkable, cruel and potentially unlawful plans justified by misleading or simply incorrect evidence, wrapped up in racist and divisive language”.

Its signatories included Refugee Action, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, Asylum Matters, the Scottish Refugee Council, Detention Action, Freedom From Torture and the Women for Refugee Women, as well as groups supporting wider human rights issues. 

Chai Patel, legal policy director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said that the consultation on the changes was also “a sham”, intended to “mislead Parliament into believing there is merit to plans which will deny safety to people fleeing war and persecution”.

The letter also accused the Government of failing to give people enough time to respond to the consultation with its six-week deadline and for failing to prioritise the views and experiences of refugees and people seeking asylum.

Tim Naor Hilton, chief executive of Refugee Action, said: “If Ministers genuinely wanted to create a better asylum system, they would not sideline refugees as it did so.”

For Steven Shyka, of the refugee network RAS Voice, the consultation’s questions are “too closed and self-serving” designed to “produce a desired outcome, and we know what that outcome is”.

“This is not a process designed by a Government that genuinely wants to listen or has any interest in being challenged or changing its approach,” the open letter said. “We can only conclude this is a thinly veiled public relations exercise with a pre-determined outcome that we’ve been reading about on the front pages of newspapers for months.”

The Home Office said that its “New Plan for Immigration consists of over 40 pages of detailed policy proposals for the most significant overhaul of our asylum system in decades” and that “it is completely false to suggest it’s half-baked”.

“The consultation is being run by an independent and impartial organisation who will ensure that the full range and balance of opinions are reported back in full,” a spokesperson added. “We also intend to speak directly to refugees and asylum seekers as part of our consultation and engagement process.”


A ‘Wrecking Ball’

When the proposed changes were announced, Priti Patel called the plans “fair but firm” and declared an intention for people seeking protection as refugees to have their claim assessed based on how they arrive in the UK.

The changes would mean that people who arrive in the UK by what the Government claims are ‘illegal means’ – i.e. via small boats or with the aid of people’s smugglers – would no longer have the same entitlements as those who arrive through ‘proper’ channels. They would only be entitled to temporary leave to remain in the UK and would be regularly assessed for removal. 

Meanwhile, people who seek asylum from countries such as Syria or Iraq via ‘legal resettlement’ routes would receive indefinite leave to remain in the UK. 

The Government also wants to change the way in which a claim is dealt with should a person arrive in the UK via a ‘safe’ country – although campaigners have questioned the right to determine what ‘safe‘ means to an individual fleeing persecution. 

“These changes take a wrecking ball to the very principle of asylum,” the open letter stated.  

The Home Office said that it is “ensuring that everything we’re doing is consistent with international law and our international obligations including the UN Refugee Convention and to say otherwise is false. We have a responsibility to act and we have a plan to do so.”

Minister for Immigration Compliance and Justice Chris Philp said: “With each day that passes, more vulnerable people are falling prey to organised crime gangs and risk dying in the back of lorries and at sea. We have a responsibility to put the New Plan for Immigration into action so that we can fix the broken asylum system, helping people based on need, not the ability to pay people smugglers.

“The consultation has been open for over a month and thousands of stakeholders as well as members of the public have shared their views. We will consider all responses carefully before bringing forward legislation.”

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