Priti Patel’s Statement On Asylum Reform

Illustration: Steve Bell / Guardian

Migrants’ Rights Network (MRN) is deeply concerned about the Home Office’s proposed condemnation and treatment of so-called ‘illegal’ migrants. This undermines the UK’s international legal obligations – including under the European Convention of Human Rights (Art.3) – to non-refoulement, to provide safe legal routes into a country, the right to freedom of movement and to claim asylum. 

While the number of people being forced to take unsafe routes to the UK by boat has recently increased, the overall number of asylum claims in the UK has been falling. Ms. Pagliuchi-Lor, UNHCR representative to the UK, calculates that asylum claim numbers fell by 37% in the second quarter of 2020 compared to that of 2019 (Footnote 1). In the year until June 2020, the UK received over 92,600 fewer applications than Germany, over 55,000 fewer than France and Spain and over 25,000 fewer than Greece. 

This is not a new crisis; there’s no need to make policy decisions on the basis of panic.

An overhaul of the asylum system is absolutely necessary but for it to be effective and humane, we need to focus on compassionate policies. Moving asylum seekers offshore, for example, will not affect the UK’s legal responsibility to people in need. We do not want to turn the clock back on the progress we’ve made.

The Home Secretary herself was part of the Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry in November 2019 that found that: “A policy that focuses exclusively on closing borders will drive migrants to take more dangerous routes, and push them into the hands of criminal groups.” It will not comprehensively make sea routes “unviable,” as the Home Secretary is hoping.

Deterring dangerous journeys will only be achieved when, amongst other actions, we strengthen legal pathways like refugee resettlement and family reunion which allow refugees to come to the UK in safety and obtain the support needed for their inclusion in our communities. 

Working with the UK’s European partners to provide safe, legal routes is crucial for preventing people seeking asylum being left with no option but to take unsafe migration routes by sea. Criminalising and denying vulnerable and exploited individuals seeking asylum in the UK on the basis of the route they have in some cases been forced to take goes against the “fair” nature of the “fair borders bill” proposed. 

Through the community sponsorship programme and other schemes, Britons have demonstrated their compassion and eagerness to make space for refugees/migrants in their local area. The latest policies proposed by the Home Secretary simultaneously ignores the many that recognise the importance of diverse and widely skilled communities and undermines the international legal obligations that the UK is bound to uphold.

Footnote 1:

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