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Home Office Can’t Say How Many Refugees it has Given ‘Safe Route’ Asylum to From Some of the World’s Most Dangerous Countries

A Freedom of Information request for the data by this newspaper was refused on cost grounds

A boat spotted in the English Channel – deemed an illegal route by the Government. Photo: PA/Alamy

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The Home Office has refused to reveal how many asylum seekers from some of the world’s most volatile nations have been granted leave to remain via ‘safe and legal routes’ by the Government.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request by Byline Times sought a breakdown of asylum applications and approvals from five of the world’s most dangerous countries in 2022: Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Myanmar. 

The Home Office denied the request, arguing that to do so would exceed the £600 FOI set limit and that it would require someone to manually review and match data across different systems.

It raises questions about the transparency of immigration data and whether asylum seekers from some of the world’s conflict hotspots can ever claim sanctuary in the UK without resorting to crossing the Channel in a small boat. 

Col Steve Smith, of refugee charity Care4Calais, told Byline Times that “the assertion that collecting data on how many people arrive via safe and legal asylum routes would be too expensive defies belief”.

“The suspicion must therefore be that the numbers provided would be meagre,” he said. “So low, in fact, that they would highlight the fact that, unless coming from Ukraine or Hong Kong, there are no effective safe and legal routes.”

The Government has said it offers a variety of ‘safe and legal routes’ for refugees and vulnerable individuals from around the world. These include the Ukraine Visa and Extension Scheme; the route for British National Overseas holders from Hong Kong; various resettlement schemes; and a family reunion visa that allows partners and children of those in the UK with refugee status to be reunited. 

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Some additional people are identified for resettlement by the United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees, but those are not routes that individuals can apply to in a conventional sense.

Despite such ways and means, there appears to be no centralised database to capture the number of all asylum seekers arriving by them.

This is of particular concern given the high levels of threat some civilians face in the world’s hotspots. In particular, 2022 saw Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, and Ethiopia facing the highest number of global civilian casualties from explosive violence, outside of Ukraine.

According to data on asylum applications from all routes, in 2022 there were 89,398 UK claims made from all countries around the world. This is up markedly from a decade before when just 29,875 applied for asylum in the UK in 2013. 

Reports of all asylum claims from Afghanistan in 2022 were 10,872; Ethiopia saw 844; Syria, 4,562; Somali, 558; and 136 people from Myanmar. However, the published data did not show how many of these were by so-called ‘safe and legal routes’ and how many arrived via small boats. 

The Government has voided any claims to asylum by those arriving in the UK via the Channel.

“Anyone illegally entering the UK will be prevented from accessing the UK’s world-leading modern slavery support or abusing these laws to block their removal,” it has said. “Any other challenges or human rights claims can also only be heard after removal, remotely.” 

Meanwhile, the restrictions on how people can claim asylum in this way has been further tightened. According to the Home Office, the Government has reduced the number of asylum seekers given ‘resettlement and relocation’ from the years ending September 2022 and September 2023, from 6,733 to 1,810 – a drop of some 73%.

The Government’s refusal on cost grounds to say how many asylum seekers have arrived outside the small boats route, and where they have come from, echoes wider fears that there are no effective safe routes left to those fleeing war. 

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Last year, Byline Times visited Calais to interview people trying to board small boats to cross the Channel to Britain. Mangal, a 42-year-old Afghan, told this newspaper: “If I had chosen the safe and legal route, I’d be in a coffin now.” 

Having once been a contractor for the Allied Forces in Afghanistan, his family was now targeted by the Taliban, he said, and they had killed a brother. Evidence shown to this newspaper substantiated his claims. “The British officials in Pakistan couldn’t help me,” he said. “And if I went back to Afghanistan there is nobody there to assist. So, what could I do? Where could I go but here to Calais?”

It seems even those who make the journey via routes the Government deems illegal do not find the sanctuary they seek. One Afghan refugee, a shopkeeper called Fahim, is currently in the UK. He told Byline Times that “after the coalition left, the Taliban shot my father, then my brother. I knew they would kill me too, and the day I left I heard they were in my house”.

Fahim made his way to the UK and is now in the asylum centre of Wethersfield airbase, more than a mile outside the Essex village of the same name. “I thought I would be safe here, but instead they put me in Wethersfield, which feels as dangerous as Afghanistan was for me,” he added.

“No one tells us how long we will be here, but we hear about frightening things like Rwanda, or the refugee who died on the barge, and we fear what they will do to us. I asked myself if I could become so depressed, I would kill myself too. I hope not, but I do not know how long I can live like this”.

Fahim told Byline Times he was not eligible for any of the UK Afghan asylum schemes so felt forced to take the ‘illegal’ route via the Channel’s small boats.

Iain Overton will soon officially join the board for the charity Care4Calais


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