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Asylum News: New Immigration Plan/Borders Bill

10th May ’21.  A new Coalition Campaign group, #Together With Refugees, has launched.  

#TogetherWithRefugees brings together a coalition of more than 100 national, local, refugee-led and grassroots groups, who believe in a fairer asylum system and showing compassion to people fleeing war & persecution. The campaign is calling for upholding the ‘right to asylum’, where people can seek safety in the UK, no matter how they came here. Also that People can live in dignity while they wait to hear if they will be granted protection. More info here:  Borders Bill is expected for debate in Commons in September.

April 1. 2021  New Immigration Plan:  City of Sanctuary UK response

Last week the UK Government announced new plans for changes to the asylum system. Taken in their entirety the proposals represent an attack on the right to seek sanctuary in the UK and will do little to address the systemic, long-term failures of the system that cause such extreme hardship to people seeking sanctuary.

At a recent refugee sector meeting, convened by Asylum Reform Initiative, Jonathan Featonby (British Red Cross) helpfully summarised the main changes, see Presentation on Immigration Plan. There are also commentaries which provide further details, including Free Movement and  JCWI’s explainer.

Brief Summary of the proposals

  • The creation of a three-tier system where people are granted different rights and status dependent on how they have entered the UK;
  • Immigration rules that deem the claims of people who have entered the UK irregularly as ‘inadmissible’ will be put into legislation (they have been in force since 1st Jan) and the Home Office will make all attempts to return them to another ‘safe’ third country;
  • Those who have arrived irregularly but are then recognised as refugees will be granted ‘temporary protection status’ (30 months with no recourse to public funds and limited family reunion rights);
  • Refugees who are resettled to the UK through government resettlement schemes will have enhanced levels of protection (Indefinite leave to remain on arrival and enhanced family reunion rights);
  • The introduction of reception centres to provide basic accommodation for people while their asylum claim is processed;
  • Implement the provisions in the Immigration Act 2016, including removing Section 95 support from families who had been refused asylum as well as replacing Section 4 and restricting its access).
  • For information on family reunion proposals see the statement from the Families Together

The consultation

The Government has announced a six week consultation on these proposals, through an online platform where organisations and individuals can submit their input up until 6th May  Whilst we believe it is important to submit a consultation response if you are able to, we need to be realistic and realise it is unlikely to achieve the changes we want to see.

Appalled but not disheartened

We are appalled by the plan, but many of us who have worked in the refugee sector for many years will recognise that many of the proposals are not new; they are re-runs that were either proven to be unworkable, or have been prevented by legal challenges. The plans will do nothing to address the root causes of why people put their lives at risk trying to cross the Channel, or the backlog of people waiting in inhumane conditions for a decision on their claim for asylum. They will make an already broken system even worse.

During the coming months we will continue to mobilise behind specific campaigns on the proposals which are led by partners and the existing coalitions. e.g. Families Together , Asylum matters etc. However we have to be realistic, with an 80 seat majority we are unlikely to see many wins. As part of these efforts we will continue to work with the City of Sanctuary Local Authority Network to increase awareness of the impact these proposals will have on increasing destitution.

We are not disheartened though, in fact the opposite! We are more determined than ever to continue our efforts and plans to create a welcoming environment that makes negative asylum reform as difficult as possible and to achieve our ultimate longer term goal of bringing about positive change.

We will not let these Government plans distract us from our vision.

Our intentions

1. Build a counter-narrative to the negative rhetoric;

Over the past few months we have been involved in cross-sector work,  led by IMIX, on developing an audience strategy and common narrative. This work aims to support the sector work to win public support through uniting our supporters and reaching the so-called ‘anxious middle’, or most importantly the ‘persuadables’ within that segment of people. We cannot underestimate how important we think this work is, and as such we have become to focus our efforts on this endeavour through:-

Celebrating Sanctuary 

As part of our efforts to focus on building a counter-narrative to the negative rhetoric that is prevalent in the media we are launching a Celebrating Sanctuary week on the 19th April. There will be a facilitated conversation at 10.00am on April 19th at which we will celebrate and promote the stories of welcome from across the City of Sanctuary network

  • March 2021: Refugee Council’s response                                                                                                                 Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council responded to Priti Patel’s new Asylum Plans:

Priti Patel, is seeking to rule asylum claims from people who travel through other “safe” countries inadmissible, but at the same time provide indefinite leave to remain for people who come through so-called legal routes such as resettlement schemes. This unjustly differentiates between the deserving and undeserving refugee by choosing to provide protection for those fleeing war and terror based on how they have travelled to the UK………Refugees often don’t have a choice around travel as the threat to their lives is so great that they have to quickly uproot themselves and find a life elsewhere.”

While the UK  welcomed 20,000 people from Syria displaced by the civil war under the VPRS, this is a relatively modest number – (the equivalent of  six people in every parliamentary constituency each year.) To genuinely help those in need of protection, the Government must immediately expand safe routes for many more refugees but also recognise that not all sanctuary seekers are able to access a safe, regular scheme. All should be treated humanely .