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Tue 22 June 2021

New data shows how the Government’s immigration reforms could lead to fewer women and children escaping war and persecution being welcomed into the UK

Sixty per cent of women and children currently accepted as refugees by the UK would be turned away under the Government’s New Plan for Immigration, according to new data.

The UK’s current rules allow people to be accepted as refugees once it is confirmed that they have fled war or persecution and undergone rigorous official checks. But, under the Government’s proposals, the majority of people accepted as refugees under these rules would no longer have their rights recognised in the UK due to their method of arrival.

The change contradicts Home Secretary Priti Patel’s speech introducing the plan, when she said that most people arriving in the UK via small boats were men. “Where are the vulnerable women and children that this system should exist to protect?” she asked.

It also contradicts the wide-ranging support from the British public for protecting and supporting people fleeing war and persecution. 

Home Office data analysed by the Refugee Council has found that, on average, 15,410 people were granted refugee status each year from 2015 to 2020, of which 50% were women and children. Under the New Plan for Immigration, it is projected that 9,246 of these people would no longer be accepted as refugees – meaning that two in every three women and children currently accepted by the UK as refugees would be turned away in the future.

Sabir Zazai, CEO of Scottish Refugee Council and a spokesperson for Together With Refugees – which revealed the new data said: “These are mothers escaping war-torn Syria, women fleeing sexual violence in Congo or children escaping life-long conscription into the military in Eritrea. These are people in fear of their lives. These are people like me. These are also people like you, people who want to live in safety and dignity.”


Irregular Routes, Irregular Rights

Campaigners have long expressed concerns that the Government’s proposed reforms to the asylum system risks creating a two-tier system that focuses on how an individual arrived in the UK, not their reasons for leaving their home country in the first place. 

The new rules would mean that all those who claim asylum after arriving in the UK through an irregular route would face removal to a third country. Their asylum claim would only progress if removal is not possible.  

These irregular routes include arriving in the UK via small boats across the Channel or in the back of a lorry. Although these routes are recognised as legitimate under international law, they are often branded ‘illegal’.

The ‘regular’ routes include entering the UK on a paid-for flight while carrying a visa or an up-to-date passport. 

Some people seeking asylum are able to enter the UK via the latter routes. However, many more cannot.

The vast majority of people seeking asylum for whatever reason are unable to leave their homes and take a regular route into the UK. They may be fleeing conflict or a climate disaster that has destroyed their belongings, they may have had their travel documents or financial assets removed by their persecutors, or they may have fled with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

Under the Government’s proposals, people who arrive in the UK via an irregular route and go on to be granted refugee status would only receive temporary protection with reduced rights and entitlements. They will not have an automatic right to settle, with leave to remain granted for a maximum period of 30 months and will be regularly reassessed for removal from the UK. 


‘Opportunity to Save a Life’

In a statement shared by Together with Refugees, a woman named Asta who fled the conflict in Eritrea, shared her experience of claiming asylum in the UK.

Like many people others, Asta arrived in the back of the lorry. She had been imprisoned by Eritrea’s dictatorship and “didn’t know if I was going to live or die. I just knew I had to get out”.

Since being granted refugee status, Asta has worked as a clinical support worker on the Coronavirus wards in the hospital where she now lives and says that the “the UK gave me an opportunity and now I’m working. If I’m asked to help, I will help”.

Under the Government’s proposals, the means of her arrival in the UK would mean that Asta would be facing removal to a third country. Even if her asylum claim was processed, she would only be granted leave to remain for up to 30 months and she would face repeat assessments to determine her right to stay in the UK. 

“Every day, I thank God for bringing me here, and secondly I thank the people of the UK who saved me,” Asta says. “Every time you give someone sanctuary, you have the opportunity to save a life.”

Together with Refugees and its coalition partners are calling for a more effective, fair and humane approach to supporting refugees. They said: “We urge the Government to rethink its proposals and stand up for people’s ability to seek safety in the UK, including those who overcame hardship to find any route they could to escape danger.”

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