Priti Patel’s plans to overhaul the UK’s asylum system have been condemned as “inhumane” by campaigners.
Opponents are mainly concerned with the change in assessing refugees’ claims for asylum based on how they arrive in the UK, instead of on merit.
Under the proposals, those who arrive in the country “illegally” to claim asylum will no longer be given the same entitlements as refugees who arrive through official channels.
One charity, Migrant Voice, said the overhaul would condemn asylum seekers “to a life in limbo with restricted rights”.
Nazek Ramadan, director of the advocacy charity, said: “People fleeing persecution and death have the right to seek sanctuary. That is the starting point, and no policy should undermine it.
“We are dealing here with human beings: they cannot be treated like commodities.”
A ‘wrecking ball’ to the right to claim asylum
Ms Ramadan called on the Government to create viable legal routes for those seeking asylum, claiming that an international resettlement scheme cited by Priti Patel only resettles “1% of those who need it and are recognised by the United Nations”.
“The other 99% are left abandoned for years in harsh conditions,” she said.
She added that it was “unacceptable to punish those who are simply trying to reach safety and do what any one of us would do”.
Tim Naor Hilton, interim chief executive at Refugee Action, described the proposals as a “wrecking ball to the right to claim asylum in the UK”, adding: “They represent the biggest attack on the right to claim asylum that we have ever seen and will close the door to desperate people who arrive in the UK to seek safety.
“People fleeing for their lives have little choice in how they seek safety. But these reforms punish refugees simply for how they enter the country, creating an unjust two-tier system of refuge.
“The asylum system needs reform, but these are hard-hearted and cruel proposals. There is nothing ‘fair’ about them.”
Plans ‘lack compassion’
Refugee campaigner and Labour peer Lord Dubs, who fled the Nazis as a child on the Kindertransport scheme, criticised the plans, saying: “Removing legal routes to safety doesn’t prevent criminality – it fuels it.”
He said on Twitter: “The HO (Home Office) has closed the only two legal routes for refugee children stranded in Europe, including lone children and those with family here, to seek asylum in the UK. This is not ‘fair but firm’ – it keeps families apart and lacks compassion.”
Sonya Sceats, chief executive of Freedom from Torture, said: “These proposals are an insult to the torture survivors we work with, many of whom have risked their lives to eventually reach the care and safety we can offer them in the UK.
“The Government suggests this will help the most vulnerable. In reality, as they know full well, it is the vulnerable who will suffer most if these dangerous plans go ahead.”
Mike Adamson, chief executive of the British Red Cross said: “We agree the asylum system needs reform, but this announcement takes the system backwards not forwards.
“We should not judge how worthy someone is of asylum by how they arrived here. The proposals effectively create an unfair two-tiered system, whereby someone’s case and the support they receive is judged on how they entered the country and not on their need for protection. This is inhumane.”
‘A dark day in Britain’s history’
Catholic organisation the Jesuit Refugee Service branded the plans “deeply cruel, dishonest and inhumane”, with director Sarah Teather adding: “Today is a dark day in Britain’s history.
“The Government knows full well that those seeking safety are forced to cross borders irregularly. An asylum system designed to penalise this is lying about its purpose.”
The Home Office said it will maintain safe and legal routes for refugees in need of protection and will continue a long-term commitment of resettling refugees “as capacity allows”, with immediate indefinite leave to remain in the UK granted to those arriving in this manner.
The UK resettled almost 25,000 refugees between 2015 and 2019, with around half being children, the department said, with the Government claiming this was more than any other country in Europe and the fourth highest number around the world after the US, Canada and Australia.
This figure is understood to relate to the number housed as part of a planned scheme. Other countries are believed to have accepted more spontaneous arrivals.