By Connor McLauchlan McMillan
Home Secretary Priti Patel promised an “overhaul” on the way people seek asylum in the UK. Priti Patel said “enough is enough” referring to “smugglers” – which are mostly people who arrive here in small boats, and over 650 people entered the UK that way so far in 2021, via the Channel.
Ms Patel calls the current system “fundamentally broken.”
The changes would effectively mean that people who arrive here “illegally” (by government standards,) would not receive the benefits of someone who arrived legally.
Labour, as well as numerous charities, have said the plans “lack compassion.” It has also been said that it lacks competence as some people are questioning the way in which this will be implemented.
Eight SNP MP’s wrote a letter to the Home Secretary, criticising the “immoral” practice which they see as “an infringement of human rights.” They also criticised dawn raids as “an insult to the dignity of those subject to the raids.” The SNP have long criticised the UK’s one size fits all immigration policy, preferring the issue eventually be devolved: “Until then, we will continue to call on the UK Government to introduce a fair and humane asylum and refugee system.”
Priti Patel, perhaps unsurprisingly, views the proposals in a vastly different way, claiming it would lead to a “faster and fairer” system which would create easier “safe and legal routes” to seeking asylum in the United Kingdom. The Home Office have claimed that they take into consideration the health and wellbeing of those taken into their care.
A claim made by Priti Patel and many on the right is that people should be seeking asylum in the first safe country they enter. There is a growing perception that this has grounds in international law, but there is no legal requirement for a refugee to claim asylum in the first “safe” country they enter. Indeed, a lot of refugees choose particular countries for particular reasons, like already having loved ones there, or being more proficient in the language.
Priti Patel claimed: “”If you illegally enter the UK via a safe country in which you could have claimed asylum, you are not seeking refuge from imminent peril, as is the intended purpose of the asylum system, but are picking the UK as a preferred destination over others.” This was met with opposition from some human rights lawyers who say these plans are not lawful under the Refugee Convention, of which Britain has international obligations.
Many in the Labour Party have questioned how effective these plans would be at stopping the dangerous crossings.
In 1951, the UK helped to write the UN Refugee Convention, which states that you cannot penalise asylum seekers who have any “good cause” to enter a nation.
Supporters of Patel’s plans have said it would technically be legal because asylum seekers are not allowed to look around for the best possible destination.
There is also another legal mess for the Home Office and their plans; if refugees come from say, Calais, can the Home Office just send them back? As of now, the UK and EU nations have no legal agreement of what would happen in this scenario.
Brexit may play a part of this. Since leaving the EU, the UK has not sent any asylum seekers back for illegal entering since the end of the Brexit transition, now over 4 months ago.
This means the Home Secretary’s plans must surely include reaching agreements with other “safe” countries who would be willing to take asylum seekers who entered the United Kingdom via “illegal” means. Ms Patel confirmed this was the case, and that she was in discussions with countries.
Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds suggests that the proposed changes “risk making the situation worse for victims of human trafficking… as it would make seeking help even harder.”
He went on to criticise the “callousness of this government’s approach.”
The Refugee Council said the government was “unjustly differentiating between the deserving and undeserving refugee” regarding the decision to give protection based on how they entered the UK.
Conservative MP Shaun Bailey was one of several Conservative MP’s who wholeheartedly supported the proposals saying: “I’m angry at the images that we’re seeing of small boats coming into the Channel and the sky-rocketing costs of our asylum system.” He also claimed: “Our European neighbours need to step up.”
In summary, the UK said it would now take more into consideration in how it dealt with claims, for example if they entered via a safe country like France.
The government will have a “rapid removal” of failed asylum applicants, in an effort to speed up the process.
The Home Office has claimed it will protect asylum seekers fleeing violence via the “legal resettlement” route from countries such as Syria.
Another proposal includes rigorous age checks, after claims that some adult refugees pretended to be children.
Asylum applicants who were deported with criminal records currently receive a maximum jail sentence of six months. Ms Patel says the maximum sentence will now increase to five years. For those who have arrived “illegally” family reunions and benefits could be greatly limited.
“People smugglers” could now get life sentences, under the new plans.