Scottish Refugee Council is deeply concerned by the Home Secretary’s proposals on reform of the UK asylum system. All people seeking protection, however they arrive in the UK, need to be treated with dignity and humanity. That is not what the proposals offer.
At the heart of the Home Secretary’s proposals is the dangerous concept that people’s need for protection should be judged by the way people seek protection rather than the fear of persecution that forces them to flee. The UK Government is seeking to discriminate between people who arrive through resettlement routes and those that reach our shores to claim asylum.
For most people fleeing from their lives from dangerous countries, making arrangements through official organised resettlement schemes is impossible. Anyone will use any means they can to escape in order to survive, including crossing borders without the prerequisites for legal entry. This is fully recognised in international refugee law.
Seeking asylum is not a crime. We cannot consider closing the door on people to whom official and organised routes to seeking asylum are not available.
The current asylum system is under the pressure and needs reform. This is not because of people seeking asylum in the UK, we receive less than a quarter of the asylum applications of France, Germany or Spain, numbers of people arriving seeking protection are at historical lows and numbers of appeals are falling. This is because of years of mismanagement and hostility by a dysfunctional Home Office, from the outsourcing of accommodation to private contractors with no proper scrutiny, to increasingly slow decision-making on asylum cases and inhumane conditions.
Plans to continue to resettle refugees from other countries and to grant Indefinite Leave to Remain to people who arrive through this route are welcome. But the Home Secretary is silent on how many individuals she will commit to resettle and other safe and legal routes she will create.
Gary Christie, Head of Policy, Scottish Refugee Council said: “We need to have a grown-up conversation about how the UK provides safety for people fleeing war and prosecution. We need to see a proper plan for a fairer and faster system to decide on people’s claims for protection, to radically reshape the support to ensure people live in safety and dignity while waiting to be recognised as refugees, and to lift the ban on the right to work.
“Last week, the Home Secretary announced that the UK had reached its goal to resettle 20,000 refugees who had fled the conflict in Syria since the scheme was launched in 2015. This is certainly cause for celebration. But during the same time the Home Office also recognised 60,000 refugees who had arrived in the UK and claimed asylum. While these refugees were not helped by the Home Office to reach safety in the UK, and indeed the Home Office tried to prevent many doing so, as a country we should also celebrate that these men, women and children have now received the protection and safety they needed and are entitled to, in the UK.
“Recent polling in Scotland shows that 74% believe it’s important to make refugees feel welcome in Scotland and two thirds of people believe Scotland should welcome the same number or more refugees than it currently does. These proposals simply don’t resonate with people in Scotland. Indeed 59% of Scots currently believe it would be better for Scotland to run its own asylum and immigration system.
“On Friday, the Scottish Government announced new funding for communities to widen initiatives to support all refugees to rebuild their lives from the moment they arrive in Scotland. Today, the Scottish Government and COSLA launch a strategy to provide a basic safety net of support and mitigate the abject destitution of those failed by the UK’s asylum and immigration system. The Home Sectary should learn from these, drastically redraw her cruel plans and embrace a new deal across the UK to support refugees to build new futures as they contribute their talents and skills to our communities.
“A truly fair and compassionate asylum system must be part of how Scotland and the UK collectively rebuilds after COVID-19. We can and we must do better than this.”
This post was originally published on Scottish Refugee Council.