The National:

AT the evidence hearing for the Lords Home Affairs and Justice Committee, Home Secretary Priti Patel was asked by Lord David Blunkett to define admissibility and, in particular, who she understands as being admissible for an asylum claim.

Lord Blunkett’s question follows in the wake of the Home Office’s recent attempts in the New Plan for Immigration to create a new category of refugees in the UK: those who are begrudgingly accepted as being genuine refugees but whom the UK would prefer weren’t here.

While this is a new step for the Home Office, it is not a huge leap from an institution that has perpetuated the idea that the asylum system is inundated by "bogus" asylum seekers.

It’s worth listening to Patel’s answer in full, which can be found here (at 10:48:00) as it demonstrates in a nutshell how the UK Government is attempting to apply the category of being "bogus" onto not just people arriving by boat, but all people claiming asylum in the UK that have not been resettled through the resettlement programmes.

I will pick out some key points from her response and analyse them to get a better view of what the Home Secretary's position is on refugees and migration and what the reality actually is.

“We have our legal routes for coming to the UK … which is the right and proper way.”

Here Patel is referring to refugee resettlement schemes such as the Syrian and Afghan resettlement schemes, the latter of which is still in its design phase after three months.

The Syrian scheme, meanwhile, was inspected in 2018 during which it was found that refugees who had been accepted onto the scheme were still waiting on average 35 weeks to be resettled.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon: Those seeking refuge are human beings not political footballs

It is important to understand that a person who is in serious danger of losing their life and has a well-founded fear of persecution will often not have the luxury of 35 weeks to find a place of safety while they await resettlement.

Moreover, the 1951 Refugee Convention makes no explicit mention of there being a "right and proper way" to claim asylum. Instead, the Convention, to which the UK is still a signatory, explicitly states that “refugees should not be penalized for their illegal entry or stay [and that it] recognises that the seeking of asylum can require the breach of immigration rules.”

In other words, the definition of a "right and proper" way to claim asylum is a contestable political statement, rather than a legal assessment of the situation.

“They have actually travelled through safe countries where they could and should have claimed asylum.” 

The Home Office operates under the fear that the UK has a number of pull factors that stem from its asylum system appearing to be weak and our economy strong. As a result, it is thought that people fleeing persecution prefer to claim asylum in the UK rather than in other European countries.

People travelling through safe countries are therefore accused of "asylum shopping" to find the best "deal". Alternatively, they are labelled as "economic migrants" trying to cheat the system. Yet most research into pull factors to the UK has found little or no links between asylum seekers’ decision-making to travel to the UK and knowledge of the asylum system or the labour market.

Instead, refugees’ journeys are complex and dynamic – they can be influenced by the people that have travelled before them, contacts they have in countries across the world, languages that they speak and people they meet along the way.

Is this decision-making process a form of cheating the system? The recent returns figures of asylum seekers from the UK to EU member states following Brexit suggest this is not the case. Just five people have been returned this year to European states that they have passed through. An indication that, while the UK Government might believe that asylum seekers should seek refuge in the first safe country they arrive in, this view is no longer shared by our European neighbours.

“Seventy per cent of those individuals who have come to our country illegally in small boats are single young men who are effectively economic migrants … These are the ones that are elbowing [aside] the women and children who are at risk and fleeing persecution.”

It could be understood as admirable that the Home Secretary is standing up for women and children in this context, but it isn’t. Instead, Patel has created a false conflict between women and children on one side, and "single" men on the other.

​READ MORE: Apologise to Scotland: Shona Robison slams Patel over asylum seekers claim

In particular, it is not an uncommon tactic for refugee families to reach their intended safe country by sending the young men of the family ahead of the rest of the group. The journey from Syria to Europe is currently fraught with danger, and families must choose who is most likely to succeed.

Following the increased securitisation of Europe’s borders, moreover, people are increasingly reliant on people-smugglers. As a result, families can only pay for one person to travel to Europe – with the intention of then applying for family resettlement following their successful asylum claim. In the UK, for example, around 5400 people were issued family reunion visas in 2020.

The National:

The images of the dinghies making the Channel crossing are both shocking and disturbing, as are the numbers of people who are deciding to make this journey. Yet it is important to recognise that this jump in numbers (from under 10,000 last year to 25,000 this year) was anticipated by researchers from the moment the French and UK governments increased their efforts to clamp down on illegal border crossing through the Channel tunnel. Back in March this year I even argued that the new plans were going to play right into the people-smugglers' hands (and bank accounts).

It’s high time that politicians across the divide accept a number of inconvenient truths concerning refugees and migration:

  • Spending more money on border control does not reduce irregular migration. Instead, it makes people more reliant on smugglers and increases the risks they need to take.
  • The 1951 Refugee Convention allows refugees to cross borders without permission for the purpose of claiming asylum.
  • Categorising people as "bogus", "illegal" or as "economic migrants" will not reduce numbers of successful refugee claims. Instead it will create long-term problems as we seek long-term ways to include refugees in our society.