Updated 27 May 2021: Amnesty International: UK: ‘Reckless’ new plan on immigration sees major decline in processing asylum claims
Quarterly immigration statistics published by Home Office today: Long outstanding asylum claims 50% higher than a year ago
‘The Home Office’s new asylum rules are reckless and impractical’ – Steve Valdez-Symonds
New statistics published today by the Home Office show that immigration rules introduced by the Home Secretary last December have led to more than 1,500 people who have sought asylum in the UK being warned the Home Office is looking to send them to other countries. Although there are no agreements in place for those countries to accept responsibility for their asylum claims. To date, none of these people have been removed from the UK.
Reacting to the new quarterly statistics – which provide official information on the UK’s immigration system, including people coming to the UK, applying for asylum, and being detained or removed – Amnesty International said the new rules were “reckless and impractical”.
The new rules introduced at the start of the year are integral to the Government’s “plan”, announced in March, which seeks to largely dismantle the UK’s existing asylum system, including by refusing to consider many claims on the basis that people will be sent instead to other countries to have their claims dealt with by those countries. However, as many experts and critics have predicted, it is unlikely that other countries will be willing to receive from the UK people seeking asylum here.
Today’s data shows that so far nobody refused admission to the UK’s asylum system under the new rules has been accepted by a third country. Ultimately, if someone is not accepted by another country, the UK will have to consider the person’s asylum claim. As experts have warned, these new rules risk doing no more than adding to Home Office delays and backlogs.
Key findings from the quarterly statistics, which show a significant decline in the UK providing protection to people seeking asylum, are as follows:
- The UK granted leave to remain for 8,640 people (including dependants) in the year ending March 2021
- This figure is around half (42%) of the number in the year ending March 2020, and the lowest level since 2012
- In the year ending March 2021, there were 12,968 initial decisions made on asylum applications, and just under half (48%) of these were grants of asylum and humanitarian protection
- Twelve months ago, the figure of asylum claims awaiting an initial decision after more than 6 months was 31,516. It has now reached 50,084, indicating major delays within the system
Steve Valdez-Symonds, Refugee and Migrant Rights Director at Amnesty International UK, said:
“The Home Office’s new asylum rules are reckless and impractical – and are not in keeping with the spirit and purpose of international refugee law.
“As predicted, today’s data shows that so far nobody refused admission to the UK’s asylum system under the new rules has been accepted by any other country.
“With these rules, the Home Secretary has merely introduced more uncertainty and delay which causes immense anxiety to people seeking asylum while adding to the mountain of existing backlogs.
“We don’t need these oppressive new laws and rules – we need the Home Secretary to focus on making the UK asylum system more accessible, reducing not adding to delays and improving the quality of decision-making so women, men and child refugees receive the protection of this country to which they are entitled.”
Updated 10 May 2021: Guardian: EU countries snub Priti Patel’s plans to return asylum seekers
UN criticises the proposals as so damaging they risked Britain’s ‘global credibility’
Not a single European country has decided to support the UK government’s controversial asylum plans, with the UN on Saturday night criticising the proposals as so damaging they risked Britain’s “global credibility”.
Six weeks after the home secretary, Priti Patel, unveiled a sweeping immigration overhaul that included deporting migrants who enter the UK illegally to safe countries such as “France and other EU countries”, sources have said the Home Office has been unable to persuade any European state to sign up to the scheme.
The UN’s refugee agency will soon publish its detailed legal opinion into Patel’s asylum proposals that is likely to conclude her plans infringe international legislation and are unworkable. Despite this, Patel’s asylum proposals are to feature in the Queen’s speech on Tuesday, which lays out the government’s legislative agenda for the next year.
In damning indictment of Home Office’s proposed immigration overhaul, solicitors body warns reforms would ‘make a mockery of British fair play’ and risk ‘overturning’ principle that everyone is equal
In an 81-page consultation response to the plans, Law Society president I Stephanie Boyce warned that penalising asylum seekers who reach UK shores by “so-called irregular routes”, such as by boat, risked breaching international law by creating a “two-tier asylum system”. “The proposals seek to push asylum-seekers who reach the UK by irregular routes into destitution or homelessness as a way of coercing them to leave the country. Extremely vulnerable people seeking asylum are exercising their legal right to escape human rights abuses – to penalise them in this way could constitute a further abuse. Punishing victims of crime is not acceptable in a civilised, democratic country which upholds the rule of law.
Read more: Independent, https://is.gd/Ni2K8y
30 April 2021: Women for Refugee Women: New Plan will harm women:
OVER 70 LEADERS WORKING WITH REFUGEE WOMEN COME TOGETHER TO HIGHLIGHT TO THE HOME SECRETARY THAT HER NEW PLAN FOR IMMIGRATION WILL HARM WOMEN
The government’s New Plan for Immigration will harm women seeking asylum. Today, 30 April 2020, more than 70 leaders of organisations and groups supporting women who have sought asylum write to the Home Secretary to express shared concerns about the New Plan.
Read the full letter below:
Dear Home Secretary,
Re: Impact of proposed New Plan for Immigration on women seeking asylum
We are writing to express our serious concerns over the proposed New Plan for Immigration (New Plan) and its potentially devastating effects on women seeking safety. Most of our organisations and groups support women who have fled sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). Yet, despite these horrific experiences, many are failed by an asylum system which subjects them to disbelief, detention and destitution. On 24th March, you asked “where are the vulnerable women…that this system should exist to protect?” If introduced, the proposals would make things even worse for women in desperate need of refuge.
The changes would have harmful effects on both men and women. In this letter we highlight the impact on women, as these experiences are too often unheard.
- Treatment of asylum-seeking women who arrive by irregular routes
We are alarmed by proposals that unjustly differentiate between vulnerable people who have fled danger, based on how they have travelled to the UK.
Temporary protection status
Our organisations work with women who have fled rape, forced prostitution, trafficking, honour-based abuse and female genital mutilation. Many of these women are sexually or physically abused again when they travel to the UK, journeys that sometimes involve irregular routes so that they can quickly escape danger. There is a real risk that temporary protection status would result in some of the most vulnerable women being refused asylum – women who instead would be condemned to destitution, detention and possible removal to the countries where their lives remain in danger.
The absence of gender in the UN Refugee Convention makes the assessment of many women’s cases complex, and particularly when they involve persecution by private individuals as opposed to the state. Home Office guidance reminds us that “[v]iolence against women can occur more commonly within the family or community.” Yet, decision-makers have often shown a poor understanding of how private violence falls within the UN Refugee Convention, and the UK’s obligation to grant asylum. Under the proposed temporary status, cases would be reviewed every 30 months with a view to return to the country of origin or removal to a third country. Having to periodically demonstrate the need for safety is likely to be harmful for all women who have survived SGBV, and especially for those who have fled private violence.
We are concerned that the proposed reception centres could amount to a form of indefinite detention that would not only be retraumatising for women who have survived SGBV but also a barrier to disclosing their experiences. The New Plan cites the example of Denmark, even though the small amounts of financial support coupled with “the distance between asylum centres…and towns or cities, means people are effectively confined” there.
The same study also shows how asylum centres can be completely inappropriate for survivors of SGBV and trafficking to heal. Detaining women who have already survived trauma and violence inflicts immense harm and retraumatises them, particularly when there is no time limit. The New Plan states that the Home Office will first attempt to remove a person who has come to the UK irregularly and, where that is not possible within six months, will start to process their asylum claim. It is very likely therefore that many women will be deprived of their liberty for several months, if not longer. Research has found that the longer someone is held in immigration detention, the greater the effect on their mental health. In forcing women to relive traumatic memories of confinement and abuse, the reception centres could prevent disclosure and, therefore, a fair assessment of their claims.
- ‘One-stop’ process
We are very concerned that the ‘one-stop’ process could result in many women being wrongly refused asylum. The process would force traumatised women to raise all the reasons for why they need protection at the outset, with “minimal weight” given to evidence raised later in the process “unless there is good reason”. Yet there are many reasons for why women who have survived SGBV cannot disclose all relevant experiences at the initial stage; the Home Office’s own guidance acknowledges these barriers, that include “guilt, shame, concerns about family ‘honour’ or fear of family members.” The same guidance also acknowledges that women who have been trafficked to the UK may be facing threats from their traffickers at the time of their asylum interview, such that they are unable to speak openly with officials. Some LGBT women, who have fled persecution because of their sexual orientation, are not able to speak about their sexuality during the time of their initial asylum claim; they may still be coming to terms with it themselves, a process that can take many years. All of these challenges are exacerbated by a lack of specialist mental health and quality legal support. Most women that Women for Refugee Women support have not received adequate legal representation for their initial claim; some women have not had any legal advice at all.
It is vital that our asylum system allows all women to be heard. To that end, Home Office guidance states that late disclosure should not automatically prejudice a woman’s credibility. It is unclear then why the department is now considering changes that go against these standards.
- ‘Well-founded fear of persecution’ test
Proposals to introduce a ‘balance of probabilities’ standard are said to be necessary to “[make] it harder for unmeritorious claims to succeed.” Yet the UN Refugee Convention is based on the principle of ‘benefit of the doubt’, in favour of the person seeking safety. A more severe test would only increase the barriers that already exist for vulnerable women to obtain a fair assessment.
- Fast-track appeals process and accelerated claims and appeals process from detention
We are extremely concerned that any form of accelerated processing could have a harmful effect on women with complex gender-based or trafficking claims. We would like to remind the Home Secretary of the Detained Fast Track and the devastating effects it had on women’s chances of successfully claiming asylum. The process was deemed unlawful by the Court of Appeal for being “systematically unfair”, with the Home Office refusing a staggering 99% of claims, compared to around 59% of non-fast track applications. It was also inherently unsuitable for complex cases, heavily criticised for its handling of gender-related and trafficking claims. Indeed, women from some of the most oppressive countries who faced persecution were wrongly refused asylum and deported as a result of the Detained Fast Track.
- Modern Slavery
We are disturbed by proposals to limit the protection of actual or potential victims of modern slavery.
Legal standard for a reasonable grounds decision
Proposals to strengthen the evidence threshold for deciding whether someone is a potential victim are said to be necessary to stop people claiming to be trafficking victims in order to prevent removal from the UK. Yet it can take many months for a woman who has been forced into sexual exploitation to speak about the abuse she has suffered. It is therefore vital that potential victims are given a window to access support such as safe housing. We would like to remind the Home Secretary that a positive reasonable grounds decision is not the end of the matter; to be officially confirmed as a victim of trafficking then requires a positive conclusive grounds decision. We are concerned that a higher standard of proof at the first stage would harm some of the most vulnerable women, keeping them in the hands of their traffickers. It would also ignore the government’s own statistics which show that the majority of people in immigration detention who are referred into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) are subsequently recognised by the Home Office as potential victims of trafficking.
The ‘public order exemption’
We object to amendments to the ‘public order exemption’ that would deny access to the NRM and associated protections to certain women who may be victims of trafficking, including those with a criminal sentence of 12 months or more. Some of our organisations are aware of women who have been subject to sexual and other forms of labour exploitation, who have been prosecuted and imprisoned for criminal offences related to their exploitation, and who need protection.
Last year, you spoke of your commitment to a “more compassionate approach”, a Home Office that saw “people not cases”. However, a genuine commitment to compassion would not result in these proposals. We strongly urge you to reconsider your approach, and to listen to the women who have sought safety in this country.
Bodies say survey is poorly designed, rushed and may exclude refugees from responding
Almost 200 organisations have branded a government consultation on fundamental changes to refugee policy “a sham”.
A total of 192 refugee, human rights, legal and faith groups have signed a public statement condemning the six-week consultation on the government’s New Plan for Immigration as “vague, unworkable, cruel and potentially unlawful”.
The Home Office states that the consultation, which ends on 6 May, is about plans to make the asylum and immigration system fairer and more efficient, to deter illegal entry and to enable the government to more easily remove people they say have no right to be in the UK.