A key plank of the government’s ‘New Plan for Immigration’ is a proposal to determine the worthiness of those seeking sanctuary on the basis of how they got to the UK. This is inhumane, destructive, possibly illegal, and justified by flagrant dishonesty.
What are the plans?
First, if someone has travelled via another country, or without documents, the government will try not to examine their claim at all: it will declare the claim inadmissible, and expend time and energy trying to get someone else to process the claim. This became government policy in January with the new rules on inadmissibility. The New Plan for Immigration proposes to put these rules into law.
Even once the government has recognised that they are a refugee – i.e., that they need international protection, it will give them a lesser, ‘temporary’ form of protection status. From what we can tell, this means they won’t be able to settle in the UK, but instead face removal after 30 months or when removal becomes possible; they won’t get access to public funds unless destitute, and they will find it much harder to reunite with family. Far from finding sanctuary, refugees will be made to live under the perpetual threat of removal.
Plans to discriminate against refugees arriving spontaneously are deeply cruel to refugees and of no real benefit to anybody. They will prolong the asylum process first at its start, where Home Office caseworkers will seek to remove people unwilling and terrified people to countries reluctant to accept them; and then by reopening the process again, indefinitely, wasting vast public resources. They will tear apart communities and prevent integration. They will foster vulnerability and exploitation. And they will not prevent desperate people from making dangerous journeys. They are born not of pragmatism, but of ideological commitment to tighter borders, for their own sake. They are also an act of political theatre for which human beings seeking a safe haven must pay the price.
Several experts have suggested that plans to discriminate between refugees on the basis of mode of entry contravene the Refugee Convention. Under the Refugee Convention, refugees are not obliged to seek asylum in the first apparently ‘safe’ country, and are allowed to travel irregularly in order to claim asylum. In fact, in response to UK government plans, a representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees observed “If all refugees were obliged to remain in the first safe country they entered, the whole system would probably collapse…A few gateway countries would be overwhelmed, while countries further removed, like the UK, would share little responsibility.” Penalising people for travelling through other countries en route here reneges on our duty towards refugees and abdicates our responsibility to share in the global task of extending welcome to them. Furthermore, the idea that there is something twisted about travelling through safe countries to seek sanctuary elsewhere displays Correspondingly, relatively few forcibly displaced people come to Britain, and they normally have clear reasons for doing so, like family ties. In 2019 there were approximately, 128,940 asylum applications in France compared with 35,566 in the UK.
Many people seeking sanctuary have no choice but to travel informally. It is not possible to make managed routes available to all who need them, as people fleeing for their lives aren’t exactly well-placed to stop off at an embassy, much less go to their government for travel documents. This is a largely theoretical point anyway, as there is no humanitarian visa for seeking asylum in the UK, and the new plan for immigration does not propose to create one. Instead, under a section entitled ‘New Humanitarian routes’, it virtually promises not to, assuring readers that cases in which the Home Secretary assists people in danger within their countries of origin to travel to the UK will be ‘exceptional’. The vast majority of refugees are either displaced within their countries of origin, or hosted in precarious situations in poor countries, and only a tiny portion are re-settled. “For the first time” the guidelines boast “whether you enter the UK legally or illegally will have an impact on how your asylum claim progresses, and on your status in the UK if that claim is successful” as if this were a long-overlooked point of sheer common sense. But by discriminating against spontaneous arrivals, the new plan for immigration wilfully ignores the basic and compelling realities about forced migration, and the global geo-political and legal landscape in which it is situated.
Dr Sophie Cartwright is Senior Policy Officer at JRS UK.
Join Sophie and Director of JRS UK, Sarah Teather, at our upcoming Accompaniment in Action event to learn more about the deeply troubling New Plan for Immigration, and JRS UK’s latest report, Being Human in the Asylum System which calls for a just and person-centred asylum system.