Priti Patel’s Asylum System “Overhaul”
Welcome back to another edition of Tuesday Newsday!
Just a few weeks ago, Priti Patel announced the New Plan for Immigration, promising an “overhaul” of the asylum system. This week, we’ll be looking at exactly what the proposed changes are and how it has come under heavy criticism.
Described as “the most significant overhaul” of the UK’s asylum system, Priti Patel’s speech in Parliament highlighted the challenges the current system is facing. Citing illegal routes and entrants, Patel suggests the system is overwhelmed. With the plan founded on the basis of fairness, she suggests the current problems exacerbate unjustness for those waiting for resettlement and for the British taxpayers who are paying for rising costs of the system. By proposing to deter illegal arrivals, many are now at risk of not being granted resettlement.
So, what exactly are legal and illegal routes? According to the plan, illegal arrivals include refugees who travelled through a safe country like France or have paid illegal smugglers to smuggle them into the country. The Conversation explains how “entering illegally” arises in the article above. To summarise, asylum seekers struggle in finding official identification documents required for legal travel that the ‘legal’ asylum process requires. Eventually, this renders them ‘illegal’ despite the valid grounds for travelling via such routes. Besides highlighting the legal inexplicability, this article highlights the tedious and long process characteristic of the UK asylum process and the gaps of the system that Patel has turned a blind eye to.
Despite these criticisms about the legal grounds for the New Plan, Patel has insisted it conforms to international law.
For instance, since November 2020, the Refugee Council has pointed out that the long bureaucratic process of resettlement and the time taken for an answer by the UK Home Office has led to asylum claims falling. Coupled with the pandemic exacerbating the backlog on the asylum cases, it is surprising that in her speech on the overhaul of the system, bureaucratic improvements are not being mentioned.
Moreover, Enver Solomon has criticised the new plan for pigeonholing how much help a refugee requires just by the means of their arrival in the UK. For instance, while the new plan seeks to further deter smuggling through criminalising smugglers with life imprisonment, it ignores the reasons why refugees often turn to illegal smuggling. Be it desperation or the insufficient number of safe routes available for asylum seekers — these problems are not tackled. Moreover, Solomon insists the new plan negates the recognition that how a person reaches the UK is not related to the extent of protection they are in need since inherently, a safe route is not automatically offered to all. Ignoring these nuances is what proves unjust to those who, out of desperation, have resorted to often dangerous means of travelling to the UK.
Yet, it is puzzling and concerning that deeper systemic antagonisms towards refugees are not being addressed. Maya Goodfellow, in 2019, highlighted the roadblocks and hindrances that asylum seekers face when arriving in the UK. While this is a long read and might have been written 2 years ago, many themes and concerns are still relevant today. For instance, other than the confusing immigrations rules and controls, support for asylum cases often necessitates funding legal representation, which hinder the well-being of these asylum seekers who often come from backgrounds of poverty. Coupled with organisations that serve to help asylum seekers navigate these challenges being overstretched and underfunded, many have criticised the system for deliberating isolating one towards leaving the country.
Moreover, despite proposals from organisations like Refugee Action, who are proposing for more humane and compassionate laws and plans, these calls for compassion and humanity have often been ignored by the Home Office. This comes in spite of these NGOs being on the ground and understanding the struggles faced by refugees. More needs to be done — be it speaking to your MP or joining the campaigns of these NGOs, to get these recommendations grounding within the UK’s plans.
Written by Ariel Koh. Edited by Maya Thanky.