To challenge the Home Office’s proposed New Plan for Immigration, Oxford-based charity Asylum Welcome is providing Zoom consultation sessions, encouraging people to write to MPs, and soliciting ideas for collaborative action against the proposed policy changes. The plan, published on 24th March, is undergoing an open consultation until 6th May.
Described by Home Secretary Priti Patel as “the most significant overhaul of the asylum system ‘in decades“, the New Plan for Immigration vows to launch tougher measures against “illegal immigration” while rewarding “legal immigration” achieved through resettlement schemes.
For the first time ever, an asylum seeker in the UK will be branded “legal” or “illegal” based on their route of arrival. Asylum seekers entering the country via “illegal means” – having passed through a “safe country” before reaching the UK – will face the Home Office’s “every effort” at removal. Even those “illegal arrivals” who successfully claim refugee status will be “regularly assessed for removal” and find their access to benefits and family reunion rights limited.
Asylum seekers’ claims of persecution and their age will undergo closer scrutiny, and people smugglers will face harsher sentences. The plan also promises to streamline the process of asylum appeals and fast-track deportations.
These “fair but firm” measures, claims Patel, will deter people smuggling and human trafficking and relieve the current pressure on the UK’s asylum processing system. However, Patel’s definition of asylum seeker legality based on means of entry has been refuted by a UNHCR spokesperson, who has noted that the 1951 UNHCR Refugee Convention does not “oblige asylum seekers to apply in the first safe country they encounter”.
Organisations working with asylum seekers and refugees have reacted with concern and alarm. Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, has condemned the Plan as “unjustly differentiat[ing] between the deserving and undeserving refugee”.
In Oxford, local charity Asylum Welcome is taking measures to challenge the plan and encouraging other members of the public to do likewise. The largely volunteer-run organisation provides a range of practical services including immigration and asylum advice, educational, language, and IT support, a food bank, and a gardening project.
Mark Goldring, Director of Asylum Welcome, acknowledges the need to reform the UK asylum system, but says he is “shocked” at the Government’s approach and describes it as “designed to stop people coming to the UK for sanctuary”.
In response to the Plan’s punitive measures against “‘illegal immigration’”, Asylum Welcome has underlined its rejection of “the two-tier system for people being treated as legal and illegal”, pointing out that refugees often have no choices apart from “‘illegal’” means of entry to the UK in the face of harm or persecution.
Asylum Welcome has held four Zoom meetings with refugees and asylum seekers and one with supporters and volunteers to explain the proposals, listen to concerns, and encourage possible proposal response ideas. Goldring states that the charity will “seek primarily to give voice to people with lived experience of the asylum system”. He also promises further action against the plan, vowing to respond “through a range of channels, directly and through networks, alliances and media” before the end of the consultation period on 6th May.
Members of the public interested in participating in Asylum Welcome’s efforts to respond to the Plan are invited to email [email protected]. Asylum Welcome also encourages those concerned about the Plan to write to their MPs or contribute to the consultation on the UK Government’s website, and provides guidelines for both.
Top Image Credit: Asylum Welcome