The UK is facing a number of problems: a faltering economy, predicted to be the worst of any G20 nations apart from Russia; a cost-of leaving crisis; failing public services; an NHS crisis; an increasing public debt. The Conservatives have been unable to address these problems, and sometimes have made them worse. They know they are likely to lose the next elections. Thus, Rishi Sunak has turned to populism. “Stop the boats” is the new slogan … we are facing “an invasion”.
There has been no shame in using lies, as when Priti Patel claimed that the majority of the small boats arrivals are “economic migrants”. A report by the Institute for Public Policy Research has shown that around 70% are genuine refugees.
There have also been outlandish exaggerations, as when Suella Braverman stated that 100 million people could be on their way to seek asylum in the UK. Reality is quite different. Some 89,398 people applied for asylum in the UK in 2022: more than in previous years but fewer than in 2002. When the size of the population is considered, we receive fewer asylum seekers than 19 other European countries.
There are a number of strategies in the populist play book. Scapegoating – in this case blaming asylum-seekers – is a good start but nothing works as well as betrayal accusations. Thus, according to Braverman, MPs not backing her controversial proposals are betraying Britain, and the real reason why the Conservative policies have not yet stopped the boats is because “an activist blob of left-wing lawyers, civil servants and the Labour Party blocked us”.
This government has taken us down a slippery slope with statements aimed at stoking anger, which have encouraged violent demonstrations and actions, followed by attempts to criminalise asylum-seeking, detentions of refugees in unsanitary centres, and a virtual stop in processing asylum applications.
Removing the right to apply for asylum
What is wrong with the proposal to deport asylum-seekers to Rwanda is that it removes the right to apply for asylum. Only failed asylum applicants should be considered for deportation.
Patel’s Nationality and Borders Act, introduced just last year, is now being superseded by the illegal migration bill, whose name is based on the pretence that all asylum seekers arriving on small boats are ‘illegal’. Refugees do not have access to regular entry routes but this, or the fact they have been through other countries, do not make it illegal to seek asylum. Actually, it is Braverman’s proposal that seems to be illegal: it breaches the United Nations (UN) refugee convention, and would appears to be incompatible with the European convention on human rights.
The centrepiece of the new legislation is the concept of inadmissibility, according to which refugees who have travelled through other ‘safe’ countries will not be allowed to claim asylum in the UK and could be indefinitely detained until when they are deported. The UN Refugee Agency argues that if all nations adopted this principle of inadmissibility, the whole burden of offering asylum would fall on the few countries neighbouring conflict zones and the whole refugee system would collapse.
We need more migrants
The paradox is that we actually need more migrants to fill vacant posts and restart the economy. Asylum seekers represent less than one tenth of the current number of migrants to the UK.
If asylum applications were immediately processed, we could reduce the massive cost and difficulties of large-scale deportations, and genuine refugees could be fast-tracked for integration and access to the labour market. The small boat refugees could help us and would reduce the number of migrants coming through official migration schemes.
Our government has shown no interest in addressing the root causes of the refugee crisis such as conflict, persecution, and insecurity. Conversely, in the US Vice President Kamala Harris is leading the root causes strategy aimed at tackling the drivers of irregular migration.
The EU common European asylum system is based on the principles of shared responsibility and solidarity. Whilst there is ongoing debate on how to implement this principle, there has been some initiatives aimed at reducing the pressure on the states receiving the largest numbers of asylum applicants.
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