By guest blogger, Vongayi Mufara, a participant in Tripod’s Organising for Power Programme and a member of the Restoration of Human Rights (ROHR) Zimbabwe’s UK Chapter
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Tripod.
The UK Government’s new immigration policy proposal will create an unfair immigration system whereby asylum seekers’ cases and the support they receive will be judged on how they have entered the UK and the initial presentation of their asylum claim evidence, rather than the danger they face. According to the Home Office, the new plan for immigration’s three key objectives are to:
- Increase the fairness and efficacy of the UK’s asylum system so that the government can better protect and support those in genuine need of asylum.
- Deter illegal entry into the UK, thereby breaking the business model of criminal trafficking networks and protecting the lives of those they endanger.
- Remove more easily from the UK those with no right to be here.
The proposed policy will have life changing consequences for people who are seeking protection in the UK. Further, I believe the proposal threatens the integrity of the UN Refugee Convention which seeks to protect individuals fleeing persecution, which the UK Government helped to write in 1951.
Irregular and Regular Routes
Asylum seekers deemed to have arrived in the UK illegally will no longer have the same entitlement as those who arrive in the country through legal routes. If their claim is successful, they will be granted only a temporary refugee status and will face the prospect of being removed indefinitely. Most asylum seekers do not have a choice about how to travel, especially when in fear of persecution or at risk of being killed. Most people will be presented with an option to leave the country and not everyone has access to legal routes of travel in those critical times. Some countries do not even have embassies nor refugee camps at their disposal and people will take whatever available option there is to secure safety. Instead of introducing the regular/irregular routes rules to discriminate against people fleeing persecution, the UK Government should consider other options; for example, increasing access to legal assistance; increasing safe and legal routes including integration and family reunion, resettlement, work and study visas and community sponsorship to reduce dangerous and ‘irregular’ journeys; and even investing in conflict resolution to help address the root causes of forced displacement.
Introduction of Reception Centres
I am deeply concerned that reception centres will be another form of indefinite detention, which would retraumatise refugees, many of whom have already suffered torture, war, human trafficking, and sexual and gender-based violence. The use of such institutional forms of asylum accommodation is cruel and can be retraumatising for many people as it echoes the deprivation of liberty and human rights already experienced in their country of origin. This leads to high chances of mental health issues and greater need for mental health support: recent evidence has shown that the clinical harm caused by the use of reception centres as housing for asylum seekers increases the experience of depression, re-traumatisation, and suicide. Further, reception centres will isolate people seeking asylum from communities, which has a damaging impact on mental health and integration. I call upon the Home Office to house all people seeking asylum in communities, in accommodation designed for human beings not ‘asylum seekers’. Asylum seekers are people who deserve to live in safe and dignified accommodation.
Limiting Access to Public Funds
Asylum seekers who are deemed to have arrived illegally will have limited access to benefits and public funds which will increase homelessness and poverty. Using enforced destitution as a deterrent, and attempting to force people to go back to their home country where they are being persecuted, is very wrong and inhumane. When people leave their home country, their families and loved ones, in fear of persecution, it is a sign that where they are coming from is very dangerous. When you see people risking losing their lives crossing the sea in dangerous unsafe boats, it is a sign that where they are running from is even worse and they would rather die trying than wait for death. That is why you see that, even after having these hostile conditions imposed on them by the Home Office, people will still stay because, for them, home is the mouth of a shark. These hostile conditions should not be a built-in feature of the UK’s asylum system, which should be designed to protect not punish asylum seekers. The UK government must end the use of no recourse to public funds and should not restrict funds to asylum seekers who have reached the UK through irregular routes.
The system will be harder for asylum seekers to be granted refugee status based on unsubstantiated claims and will include rigorous age assessments to stop adult migrants pretending to be children. The Home Office is considering the use of bone scanners to determine age, despite risks that these will be inaccurate. I am deeply worried this will be harmful and damaging to already vulnerable, traumatised children who, having fled from home and being torn away from family and loved ones, may look older than they are, and may be wrongly placed in the incorrect age group. This could result in children being wrongly placed in adult accommodation and detention centres, resulting in children being denied their rights and necessary support. It is not easy to be forced to decide to leave, or be forced to leave your family behind at a young age when you are still in need of parental support. It is traumatising having to travel alone to an unknown destination at a young age. The UK Government should build on its proud history of welcoming asylum seekers and protecting children. The Home Office should allow Social Services to carry out an independent age assessment which is not biased to pushing children into age groups that they do not belong to.
Refugee Family Reunion
The Home Office proposes that asylum seekers who are deemed to have arrived illegally will have limited rights to family reunion. I totally agree that Family reunion is a safe and legal route for refugees. I welcome the UK Government’s plan to allow children under 21 to reunite with their parents in the UK. However, it should be noted that the impact of this plan will be minimal: only small numbers of refugees are resettled as most children are already with their families. Family Reunion should be accessible for all, not only the small number of refugees who are resettled, or the ones that came in through legal routes. We all deserve to live in safety with members of our families; restricting family reunion for those granted temporary protection will inflict deep suffering for people who have already experienced great hardship. The impact of family separation cannot be overstated. Rather than restricting family reunion rights, the government should be seeking to increase access to family reunion for all refugees, regardless of how they entered the UK.
The new proposal asserts that the Home Secretary will be able to offer protection to vulnerable people in immediate danger and risk in their home country in exceptional circumstances. It is believed that this will be used to help a small number of people seeking refuge. I support resettlement as a safe and legal route for refugees to enter the UK, however people who arrive using irregular routes are equally deserving to be heard and protected. Most migrants have no choice but to make desperate journeys knowing full well that they may lose their lives before they reach safety. That alone shows clearly how desperate one must be to seek sanctuary. In other incidents, irregular routes could be the only way if you are in fear of persecution. When you are running away and in fear of being killed, in most cases you do not have a choice but to just start running and use the first alternative mode of travel that is available at that point in time. Many refugees have been stranded in unsafe and overcrowded refugee camps where resettlement routes are not accessible, and feel they have no other choice than to make desperate journeys to find safety. Resettlement should not be the only way and it will not meet the target of ensuring that refugees have access to safety. The UK Government must commit to safe and legal routes for unaccompanied children in Europe to replace the Dubs Scheme which will reduce the chances of trafficking and modern slavery for children. The UK Government should foster the practice of welcoming asylum seekers and enable them freedom to integrate, thrive and contribute fully to society when they arrive in the UK.
A new one stop legal process is proposed so that asylum, human rights claims, and any other protection matters are made and considered together before appeal hearings. The appeals and judicial system will be reformed to speed up removal of those whose claims are refused. Most people have no idea what is required to claim asylum before arriving in the UK, and they can only rely on a relative or connections from back home to send some or all of the evidence needed. For the ones who may have an idea of what claiming asylum requires, they rarely have the opportunity to collect evidence that is needed when fleeing persecution from their home country. In other cases, the evidence may have been destroyed or is in the hands of the perpetrator.
I do not agree with the idea of a “One Stop Process” as it is impractical. One of the reasons people submit additional information is because the Home Office asks questions which may require one to provide further evidence. New evidence may be provided by people who are still in their country of origin, or may emerge due to changing situations in the home country which may make it more difficult for people to go back home. Taking away the opportunity to submit further evidence is unjust. The right to appeal should not be restricted and people should be allowed to provide further submissions of new evidence. The culture of disbelief of seeing asylum seekers as liars should stop and people should be considered genuine. The Home Office should trust and see people as human beings, and not only concentrate on winning cases at the expense of asylum seekers. The effects of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may make it difficult to provide and remember all the evidence in one go which may result in the individual’s claim being rejected and deemed untrue. The long waiting times that people seeking asylum are going through can cause distress and mental health issues to asylum seekers. The UK Government needs to address these issues to try and avoid causing more distress to migrants. The proposed speeding up of removal of failed claims will expose people to persecution and may put them at risk of being killed in their home country. I call upon the state to give second chances and allow people time to collect evidence and be allowed to submit as and when the evidence is received by the asylum seeker.
I believe that having experts approved by the Home Office is not good as the Home Office will either pick biased country experts or they are biased by association to please the employer. The Home Office should use independent experts which I believe will give unbiased and well researched up to date reports.
Victims of Modern Slavery
If the option of asylum for those entering through irregular routes is taken away, it may lead to an increase in people staying in the UK illegally. This will in turn increase chances of modern slavery as people will start to work illegally, leading to them being exploited and adversely causing an increase in the sale of false documents and other underhand methods to obtain these documents. They say desperate situations call for desperate measures and I can only imagine what other illegal avenues will be created under these conditions – increased human trafficking of illegal migrants being my worst fear. Most asylum seekers have been condemned to prisons for working when their bail conditions do not permit them to work. I want to believe that this could be avoided if they are given the opportunity to present their claims just like those who have come through legal routes.
I am going to share an upside-down poem “Refugees”, by a mysterious poet, Brian Bilston. A friend of mine shared this with me and as I was reading it my heart sank and I was in pain and speechless but then she asked me to read again from bottom to top. In a few lines we are invited to read and reread, and challenge the negative image of refugees.
They have no need of our help
So do not tell me
These haggard faces could belong to you or me
Should life have dealt a different hand
We need to see them for who they really are
Chances and scroungers
Layabouts and loungers
With bombs up their sleeves
Cut-throats and thieves
They are not
We should make them
Go back to where they came from
Share our food
Share our homes
Share our countries
Instead let us
Build a wall to keep them out
It is not okay to say
These are people just like us
A place should belong to those who are born there
Do not be so stupid to think that
The world can be looked at another way
(NOW READ FROM BOTTOM TO TOP)
By Brian Bilston
I call upon the Home Office to see people seeking asylum as human beings and treat them with compassion and dignity. The UK government should tackle the root causes of forced immigration by providing support to other nations.
ABOUT OUR GUEST BLOGGER: Vongayi Mufara is a human rights activist and the Information and Publicity Secretary of Restoration of Human Rights (ROHR) Zimbabwe’s UK Chapter. She is based in the United Kingdom and can be contacted by email on firstname.lastname@example.org