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Safe and legal routes

It’s important to pay attention to conservative think tanks – they influence government policies

By Paul FitzPatrick

Even Priti Patel, in her latter period as Home Secretary, began to use the language of ‘safe and legal routes’ through which people could seek asylum in the UK, borrowing the phrase used by many refugee support organisations.

Speaking on 19 July 2021, as the Nationality and Borders Bill returned to Parliament, she said: ‘We are strengthening the safe and legal ways in which people can enter the UK – adopting a fair but firm approach. From today I am granting indefinite leave to remain to refugees resettled under our world-leading resettlement schemes. Giving them the vital freedom to succeed from the moment they arrive in our country. And importantly offering certainty and stability to help them rebuild their lives from day one. Because that is the right thing to do.’

‘Safe and legal routes’ are widely recommended by refugee support groups as the solution to the alleged ‘crisis’ of ‘invading migrants’. If they exist for Syrians, Afghans and Hong Kongers, why could they not also exist for people from Ethiopia, Iran or Sudan? Why could a similar system to Homes for Ukraine not be put in place for people from Kurdistan or Zimbabwe? What is the reason for the differential treatment?

On the face of it, a system could easily be put in place which would eliminate the need for smugglers or dangerous journeys across the English Channel. Why not set up a Home Office facility in northern France, in Calais, for example, where people who wished to claim asylum in the UK could make an initial representation of their case? They could then be given a visa and a ticket to cross the channel via ferry or train, with an instruction to report to a designated location, at a specific time, for a formal initial assessment. The risk of failure to attend would be very low. Such a system would save a lot of money. The UK did not suggest that Ukrainian refugees should remain in Poland: why should refugees from Sudan or Chad stay in Italy or Greece?

Of course, such suggestions assume that people seeking asylum are not ‘illegal’, that seeking asylum is different from moving in search of work and that our asylum system aspires to be one of welcome rather than deterrence! These also assume that refugees should not be concentrated in a small number of countries, whether in Europe or elsewhere.

In contrast, the Centre for Policy Studies, whose ideas are clearly influencing current Government statements, regards the establishment of undefined safe and legal routes as ‘obviously absurd’: ‘the illegal crossings would stop only if such routes were completely unrestricted and unlimited in scope’, an argument which resurfaces in uglier forms in widespread misinformation apparent, for example, in the Knowsley demonstration.

In rejecting safe and legal routes, CPS wants to make it clear that, ‘it should be impossible in law to claim asylum in the UK after travelling from a safe country, and no migrant who arrives here illegally should ever be allowed to settle here. Relevant provisions in the Nationality and Borders Act need to be given teeth. Open-ended detention in communal accommodation, such as Napier Barracks, should be made the norm for asylum seekers and illegal entrants awaiting relocation to Rwanda or their country of origin.’

They claim that even if claims were processed in France, those rejected at that stage would still seek to make the journey across the Channel, with all its attendant dangers.

It seems rarely noticed that the principle that ‘someone who enters illegally should have no chance of settlement’ could also be preserved by expanding the possibilities for legal entry. Why not apply the Ukraine coping strategy to the asylum system as a whole?

The Demos Report recommends that the government collects evidence about the outcomes for refugees of the different schemes for Ukrainians, Hong Kongers and Afghans, to compare against the outcomes for refugees who go through the normal, protracted refugee system. They propose that these schemes lay the foundations for a whole new approach to asylum and support calls to expand them.

The CPS-Braverman-Timothy approach also maintains that channel crossers are economic migrants and therefore the fact that asylum is granted to 60% merely proves that the standard for asylum is too low. Here is the paradox of asylum policy: if few crossers are granted asylum, that proves that they are merely ‘economic migrants’; if many are granted asylum, that proves that the criteria are too lenient. Either way, there is no room for people seeking asylum.

The arguments and assumptions in these reports need to be brought into the light and addressed.

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