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The Home Office’s New Plan for Immigration is its latest attack on the right to asylum. According to Home Secretary Priti Patel, the “heart of the plan” is “fairness” and will “fix” the “broken system”. Moreover, in her statement to Parliament, she inferred that those who don’t like the plan “lack compassion”.
This new plan, however, has been met with waves of criticism from human rights organisations, immigration advocates and legal experts. They argue that the plan undermines the rule of law, contravenes the 1951 [Refugee] Convention and unfairly discriminates against asylum seekers.
Now, contesting the plan and its “misleading and insufficient” consultation, five asylum seekers have launched a legal challenge against the Home Office and its new policies.
The New Plan For Immigration is dubbed the “biggest overhaul of the asylum system in a generation”. It includes sweeping measures that include creating a two-tier system for asylum seekers, whereby those who arrive through “irregular routes” will be penalised.
Under the new plan, these asylum seekers, like those who took the treacherous journey across the Channel back in June, would:
The government’s proposals also include creating “reception centres” to hold asylum seekers whose claims are being processed. In addition to this, offshore asylum processing facilities are also being considered.
The Home Secretary said that the “overhaul” shows that the government is taking “back control of legal immigration”. She says that the system is “collapsing” and is “overwhelmed”. However, the statistics don’t appear to support her claims.
Despite the government’s rhetoric, the number of people claiming asylum in the UK is, in fact, historically low. Applications in 2020 fell by 20% last year, to 36,000. Meanwhile, the Home Office is taking much longer to make asylum decisions. Asylum seekers have been subjected to increasingly delayed waiting times. Figures show that over 50,000 asylum seekers are currently awaiting the Home Office’s decision on their status. This is up from 11,500 three years prior.
Appeals have fallen dramatically too, as one-fifth of what they were back in 2008/09, at between 40,000-45,000. Applications for judicial reviews are also down to just 5,700.
On top of that, while Patel said to Parliament in March: “We should ask ourselves, where are the vulnerable women and children that this system should exist to protect?” research shows that, in fact, two in three women and children refugees under current laws would be turned away under the new rules.
The controversial policy shift has, understandably, been widely condemned across the board. The UNHCR, somewhat uncharacteristically, even came out with a statement that warned the following: “The plan, if implemented as it stands, will undermine the 1951 [Refugee] Convention and international protection system, not just in the UK, but globally”.
The Law Society has echoed the same sentiments, arguing that the plan’s implementation would “pose a serious threat to the rule of law” and “undermine access to justice”.
Speaking to The New Humanitarian, Chai Patel, legal policy director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), also criticised the government’s two-tier plan. He commented: “The wording [of the plan] is worrying and vague. They are saying that the only genuine refugee is one who uses our routes and we will punish those who come in a way that we don’t approve of”.
Elsewhere, Jun Pang, Liberty policy and campaigns officer, said: “We all want to live in an equal, just and fair society. But the Government’s immigration plan puts that at risk. It would put migrants at even greater danger of human rights abuses, and further prevent them from being able to hold those in power to account. We know that attacks on human rights will always start with people who are already marginalised. This attack on migrants’ rights is no different”.
Further to this, she added: “This is just one part of a much bigger Government bid to make itself untouchable which will roll back access to justice for everyone. Being able to challenge governments and other public bodies is at the heart of our democracy – but those in power are rolling out a sprawling web of changes to our ability to stand up to power in the courts, in Parliament and on the streets”.
Amnesty International also commented on the discriminatory nature of the government’s new plan. It said: “Sadly, as before, not only is this vilification of people and their rights untrue. It will lead where it has always led – to more injustice, more inefficiency and a repeated cycle of scapegoating from a department that has never wanted or been made to take responsibility for its own failures”.
Moreover, it seems the government doesn’t have the support of the public either. A recent poll revealed that the majority of Britons (64%) support the protection of refugees fleeing war and persecution.
Now, represented by Duncan Lewis, five asylum seekers adversely affected by the overhaul have brought forward a judicial review, challenging the legality of the immigration reforms.
Representatives of the asylum seekers argue that the consultation process was “insufficient” and that they were indirectly discriminated against because the Home Office failed to “take meaningful steps to facilitate their participation”. This included a failure to provide a reasonable time to respond to the consultation.
Moreover, the five claim that while they wanted to participate in the consultation, they were prevented from doing so because the consultation documents were only available in English and Welsh.
Lawyers have also argued that proposals were overwhelmingly vague, which meant that “even expert organisations” were “unable to provide informed and meaningful responses”.
Tim Naor Hilton, chief executive of Refugee Action, went further and called the consultation a “sham from the start”. He added that the government were “side lining refugees whose lives will be torn apart by the new policies’.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We consulted widely and thousands of stakeholders, sectors and members of the public shared their views. We make no apologies for wanting to move quickly – vulnerable people are falling prey to organised crime gangs and are dying making dangerous journeys across the English Channel”.
If the challenge is successful, the Home Office may be ordered to reopen the consultation.
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