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Sat 23 October 2021

An Equality Impact Assessment into the New Plan for Immigration reveals that the Government’s ‘deterrent’ approach may lead to people taking greater risks to come to Britain

The Government has admitted that it has “limited” evidence that its approach to deter people entering the UK via small boats and lorries in its New Plan for Immigration will be effective.

The Equality Impact Assessment states that the Government’s proposal could have the opposite effect of that intended, by encouraging people seeking asylum to attempt more dangerous journeys.

Published earlier this month, the document is a tool to determine how public sector policy impacts on equality and is designed to eliminate discrimination, promote equality of opportunity, and ensure that people with protected characteristics are not negatively impacted by legislation or policy decisions. 

The New Plan for Immigration is part of the Home Office’s Nationality and Borders Bill, a core policy of which is to deter people from entering the UK “illegally”, such as on small boats across the British Channel. 

The plan aims to “deter illegal entry into the UK, thereby breaking the business model of people smuggling networks and protecting the lives of those that they endanger”. Instead, people seeking asylum or wishing to come to the UK will be encouraged to take “legal” routes, or be invited to the UK via resettlement schemes. The Home Office also aims to “strengthen penalties for illegally entering the UK”, which the Government hopes will deter people from making dangerous journeys.

However, in its Equality Impact Assessment, the Home Office admits that the plan to “increase security and deterrence” could encourage people to “attempt riskier means of entering the UK”. It also states that “evidence supporting the effectiveness of this [security and deterrence] approach is limited”. 

According to the document, the people who may attempt riskier routes are younger males, most likely from Iraq and Iran. 

The Home Offices justifies its approach by saying that “deploying these measures does advance the legitimate aim of encouraging asylum seekers to claim in the first safe country they reach and not undertaking dangerous journeys facilitated by smugglers to get to the UK” and therefore “this is consistent with the overarching policy objectives of the Plan to deter illegal entry into the UK”.


Equality of Opportunity 

In its assessment, the Home Office has identified ways in which it can increase “equality of opportunity” for people seeking asylum or entering the UK. 

Chief among them is how the Plan’s proposed “differential treatment of refugees” could improve equality of opportunity for young men, particularly those travelling from Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria and Afghanistan.

The differential treatment relates to the proposal to create a tiered asylum system, whereby those arriving in the UK via small boats or lorries, for example, will only be offered temporary immigration status, with abridged rights and benefits, and face the possibility of removal. 

When assessing equality of opportunity for young men leaving their home countries, the Home Office states that its Plan will deter this group from making risky journeys and instead seek asylum in the first “safe country” they can reach. This, the Home Office claims, is “an opportunity to advance equality of opportunity for males in terms of enabling them to not put themselves at risk”.

However, the Home Office has already admitted in its assessment that the evidence of the deterrence approach is “limited” and could lead to these same people taking more risks to enter the UK. 

The tiered approach has been heavily criticised by international agencies, including the UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, as being “discriminatory”. The Plan, the UNHCR warned in May, risks “breaching international legal commitments, undermining global refugee cooperation and triggering damaging effects on asylum-seekers who arrive irregularly”.

A spokesperson from the Home Office told Byline Times: “All attempts to enter the UK illegally carry significant risks. People should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach – that is the fastest way to safety. We do not want to see people risking their lives using unsafe routes, and this is why we are taking steps to ensure dangerous journeys are not incentivised and taking action to target the people smugglers behind them. Our New Plan for Immigration builds on ongoing work to crack down on illegal migration, remove those with no right to be in the UK, whilst providing support and protection to those in genuine need.”

The Home Office added that the Government continues to comply with all relevant duties, including the Public Sector Equality Duty, and that the assessment makes it clear that so long as appropriate steps are taken, there will be no unlawful discrimination. It also mentioned the new Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme as “an excellent example of the kind of agile, flexible approach to resettlement we are now delivering.”

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