Is the right to asylum in the UK under threat?

In considering refugee movements, it is important to get back to basics. People do not want to uproot themselves, leave everything they have ever known, and venture to foreign lands completely alien to them for no reason. Asylum seekers (those who are seeking refugee status, but have not yet had it granted), have likely fled their homeland to escape persecution, war, terrorism or any number of possible atrocities.

Such desperate situations have arisen for a number of geopolitical and environmental reasons, but often the nations that people flee are scarred with the legacy of centuries of colonialism, the results of which are still felt today. Given this legacy, countries in the Global North are morally obligated to ensure humane and decent asylum policies that prioritise human rights.

Changes on the horizon

The new government proposals aim to discourage illegal entry to the UK from those claiming asylum, making it harder for those entering illegally to settle. Those who enter the UK through smuggling in vans, in small boats or dinghies, having passed through safe countries where they could have claimed asylum, will be under much heavier restrictions. The government will increase pressure on these people to leave Britain and return to European Economic Area countries or places of origin.

The plan has been criticised on a number of counts. Part of the plan rests on the assumption that EEA countries will be willing to take in asylum seekers who travelled to the UK illegally. However, as of yet no such agreement has been reached with EEA countries to this regard. Given pre-existing tensions between Britain and the EU in light of Brexit, and the anti-AstraZeneca vaccine position taken by many continental administrations, this seems unlikely to change. 

Cracks in the plan

Plans to tighten the ‘fear of persecution’ assessment criteria need more detailing. In the current proposal the credibility of people’s claims of fear of persecution if sent back to their home country will be measured against whether they claimed asylum in a safe country that they passed through. This is problematic as people could have any number of reasons for not claiming asylum in the first safe country that they passed through including language barriers and missing family links. This should not be held against people who have genuine fears of returning to a site of persecution.

In addition little detail has been given as to the second strengthening of this fear of persecution test, which stipulates that people need to prove their group-based persecution that they are fleeing from. The government must signal that it has considered the effect of trauma on people’s ability to recount sites of persecution, moreover that adequate provision has been made to mitigate language and cultural barriers. 

Looking forward

The most charitable view of the government proposals is that they are genuinely trying to clampdown on illegal routes to the UK because they are often facilitated by criminal gangs and exploitative actors. While there is merit in this, and legal re-settlement should rightly be encouraged, creating a two tier system of refugees is not the answer to creating a human refugee system fit for the 21st century. 

Creating a better world for refugees means people hosting refugees, working to incorporate them into community life, and being conscious of what can be done locally, nationally and globally to help those in need. This could mean finding out if your local church has a programme dedicated to supporting refugees in your community, donating to a refugee aid charity, educating yourself on refugee issues through documentaries and podcasts, becoming a mentor for a refugee child in your area, or any number of other avenues of support. The most important thing is that you do what you can, because asylum seekers and refugees (in your area!) are in dire need of support. 

To learn more about refugee issues, follow the UN Refugee Agency in the UK: @UNHCRUK.

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