Asylum policies do not reflect our country’s values

A UK stamp celebrating our own migration, similar to this one issued by Italy in 1975, might bring about a better understanding of the benefits of international migration and accepting refugees and asylum seekers
A UK stamp celebrating our own migration, similar to this one issued by Italy in 1975, might bring about a better understanding of the benefits of international migration.

The UK government has implemented an “hostile environment policy” towards both asylum seekers and immigrants. This approach is inhumane and unlawful to asylum seekers, and self-damaging in relation to migrants.

A major incident?

At the end of 2018, it was reported that 221 asylum-seekers had attempted to cross the Channel to England over two months. These numbers paled into insignificance in relation to what is a global refugee crisis. However, the Home Secretary declared it a major incident.

Subsequently Nigel Farage claimed that we were facing a migrant “invasion”, a choice of words that fuelled the activities of far-right extremists.  Actually, many of those attempting to cross the Channel were not migrants but refugees fleeing persecution or conflict. The UK has ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention, a legal document which affirms the rights of refugees to seek asylum.

We are not facing a refugee crisis. The UK received 29,456 asylum applicants in 2020, fewer than in previous years. This is also much fewer than the number of asylum seekers in most EU countries. Across the world there are over 30 million refugees and asylum-seekers. The real crisis is in countries like Turkey with 3.6 million refugees.

Criticism of the government

 There has been no shortage of news and headlines criticising our government (see table below). On one side there have been fanciful ideas like  floating barriers or wave machines to push away the precarious dinghies carrying the refugees. On the other side there has been a new practice of detention of refugees in appalling conditions.

The Conservative MP Caroline Nokes, a former Minister of State for Immigration , has described the refugee policies adopted by her government as “hideously wrong”.

Priti Patel’s “New Plan” conflates two completely separate issues: immigration and asylum. Asylum is an important humanitarian obligation accounting for only 6% of total immigration.

Patel’s “New Plan” undermines the ability of refugees to claim asylum if they ”entered the UK illegally”, but most refugees do not have any other option. According to Article 31 of the UN Refugee Convention, refugees seeking asylum cannot be penalised for entering illegally. Criminalising asylum-seekers, as Patel has done, is wrong.

“Safe countries” and root causes

The government also intends to send asylum-seekers to any “safe country” that they have travelled through. Again, having crossed other safe countries does not disqualify from applying for asylum, according to a UK judge. In reality sending back asylum-seekers to other EU countries is no longer possible after Brexit, nor it would be a fair process taking into account the much higher number of asylum-seekers accepted by many EU countries.

If the government were serious about addressing asylum seeking, it would address its root causes. This would require more collaboration with our European allies, not Brexit: ending the conflicts that displace the refugees is a multinational effort. Furthermore, our government decision to slash foreign aid will worsen the global refugee crisis.

Whilst asylum is about helping others, migration is about helping ourselves. Migrants make a significant contribution to our economy and fill critical vacant posts in the NHS and in care homes.

To understand how important asylum-seekers and migrants are, we need to look no further than our Cabinet Ministers! Boris Johnson is the great-grandson of a Turkish politician who sought refuge in the UK. Priti Patel’s Ugandan Indian parents migrated to the UK just years before the dictator Idi Amin ordered the expulsion of the Asians from Uganda. Dominic Raab is the son of a Jewish Czech refugee. Rishi Sunak’s Indian parents came from East Africa.

Celebrating immigration

We have recently celebrated the life of Prince Philip. Matt Kelly described him as an immigrant of Danish/German/Greek origin who became the epitome of Britishness.

Another reason to respect migration is because we are a nation of migrants. I am referring to the fact that the UK contributed huge numbers of emigrants, who went to work and live abroad. The UK is still one of the European nations with the largest number of emigrants. 5 million Britons have chosen to live in other countries.

Boris Johnson’s “Global Britain” is becoming ever more insular with an increasing disregard for fundamental principles of international solidarity. The British people are generous, and they deserve a better government.

Table:  News and headlines have been critical of our government asylum policies

Priti Patel accused of putting the lives and safety of lawyers at risk after she branded those defending migrants as “lefties” (The Independent 06-10-2020)
Lawyers working on migration cases experience increase in “very serious threats” (The Independent 18-11-2020)
Asylum seekers who crossed the Channel are subjected to “inhumane treatment” (The Guardian 13-11-2020)
Patel warned over legality of ‘morally repugnant’ prosecutions of asylum seekers crossing Channel (The Independent 06-12-2020)
Lone child refugees no longer given sanctuary in the UK (The Independent 26-01-2021)
Unwell asylum seekers living in former military camps without access to GPs (The Independent 03-02-2021)
Asylum seekers: Napier Barracks and Penally camp ‘filthy and run-down’ (BBC News 08-03-2021)
Red Cross demands closure of ex-military asylum sites (BBC News 27-04-2021)
UN criticises Patel’s proposals as so damaging they risk Britain’s ‘global credibility’ (The Guardian 09-05-2021)

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