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Illegal Immigration Bill: How does UK refugee policy compare to the rest of the world?

The Illegal Immigration Bill aims to curb people travelling across the Channel in small boats seeking asylum in the UK.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman speaks with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during the Cabinet meeting in 10 Downing Street. Picture by Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street

Prime minister Rishi Sunak and home secretary Suella Braverman introduced the Illegal Immigration Bill to parliament today in a bid to curb people travelling across the Channel in small boats seeking asylum in the UK.

The new bill, if passed, would make any asylum claim from people arriving in small boats inadmissible, making them eligible for deportation to their home country or to a “safe third country” such as Rwanda, in line with previous policies.

This bill is the latest in a long line of proposed laws and legal measures that form part of the Home Office’s hostile environment policies, first introduced when Theresa May was home secretary in 2012 and since rebranded as “compliant environment” policies.

All of the policies are designed to reduce the number of people seeking asylum in the UK after fleeing war, famine, persecution, or economic turmoil.

A YouGov poll published in November 2022 found that 52 per cent of all Britons think the government is handling immigration poorly by failing to stop migrants from crossing the Channel and 46 per cent of Britons believe the government has not taken a firm enough stance on illegal immigration. A further 41 per cent of all Britons think immigration numbers are too high. 

But is that true? Does the UK take in more asylum seekers than other European countries and are our immigration numbers too high? 

Every country in the world has different policies when it comes to refugees and asylum seekers, but the majority are bound by the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees, which states that any person has the right to apply for asylum in any country that has signed the agreement – 149 countries, including the UK, have signed it so far. 

More than 70 years after the convention, how many asylum seekers does the UK take in now? Which country takes in the highest number of asylum seekers? 

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How many refugees does the UK take in?

Data from the Home Office found that there were 74,751 applications for asylum in 2022, more than double the number of applications in 2019, of which 23,841 applications were granted refugee status, humanitarian protection, or alternative forms of leave to remain in the UK.

This means less than one-third of all asylum applications to the UK were granted in 2022.

That number does not include anyone settled in the UK under the Ukraine visa schemes, which were introduced as a response to the Russian invasion of the country in February 2022.

The Home Office reported that as of 20 February 2023, just under a year since the war started, over 163,500 Ukrainians have arrived in the UK under the schemes. 

What are the UK’s current policies on asylum seekers?

New plans were introduced to parliament today by prime minister Rishi Sunak and home secretary Suella Braverman aim to “tackle illegal migration”, which will make any asylum claims from people who travel to the UK on small boats inadmissible. 

Anyone who crosses the Channel in a small boat will be considered an illegal immigrant and will therefore face automatic detention in secure accommodation before they are sent to their home country or to a “safe third country” such as Rwanda – as set out in the Nationality and Borders bill 2022.

Sunak previously told the Mail on Sunday: “Illegal migration is not fair on British taxpayers, it is not fair on those who come here legally and it is not right that criminal gangs should be allowed to continue their immoral trade. I am determined to deliver on my promise to stop the boats. So make no mistake, if you come here illegally, you will not be able to stay.”

But, several organisations have condemned the bill, including Care4Calais, whose CEO Clare Moseley told The Voice that the prime minister is “persecuting victims of war, torture and human rights abuses” through this bill, while Weyman Bennett of Stand Up to Racism said the policy is “heinous”.

Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, told the Big Issue: “The plans won’t stop the crossings but will simply leave traumatised people locked up in a state of misery being treated as criminals and suspected terrorists without a fair hearing on our soil.”

“We need an approach that replaces the chaos and cost of what we have now and focuses on compassion and competence, creating safe and orderly routes for refugees to reach the UK, such as refugee visas, and always giving people a fair hearing so their rights are respected,” he continued.

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, now an independent MP for Islington North, also condemned the policy, writing on Twitter: “Rishi Sunak’s latest asylum ban is immoral, inhumane and in breach of international law. We don’t need to see his Whatsapps to know why he is escalating his war on refugees: to stoke division, hatred & fear.

“Seeking asylum is a human right — we must fight back to protect it,” Corbyn added.

The UK does not allow asylum seekers to claim asylum from outside the UK nor is there any sort of visa scheme that would allow people to enter the UK specifically to claim asylum, meaning that “most people have no choice but to enter the UK without permission”, according to the Right to Remain Toolkit.

But, Sunak has said that he would announce plans for “safe and legal” routes into the UK to deter people from travelling across the Channel, and parliament will be setting an annual cap on refugee numbers. It is not yet clear what these routes would entail or what the limit would be set at.

This is the most significant change in asylum and refugee policy since the Nationality and Borders Act, which passed through parliament in April 2022. The law categorises refugees into two groups, depending on how they arrive, giving them access to different rights and protections.

Anyone arriving through what the government deems to be “illegal routes” into the UK, such as crossing the channel on small boats, may not be able to apply for asylum in the UK or would only receive a temporary status of protection, meaning they would be eligible for deportation either to their home country or to another country.

Just a few weeks before the Act was passed, an agreement was reached to send asylum seekers in the UK to Rwanda to claim asylum there instead but due to a legal challenge against the policy, no asylum seekers have been sent to Rwanda yet.

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What are Turkey’s current policies on asylum seekers?

Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees worldwide, according to the European Commission. The country currently has an estimated 3.6 million registered Syrian refugees as well as over 300,000 asylum seekers from other countries.

Turkey passed its first ever asylum law in April 2013, named the Law on Foreigners and International Protection, which prevented anyone seeking asylum in Turkey from being sent back to any place where they could be tortured, suffer inhumane treatment, or humiliating punishment due to race, religion, or group membership.

The Temporary Protection Regulation, which was adopted in October 2014, also guaranteed that anyone who sought asylum would be admitted to the country and would not be punished for entering Turkey using illegal methods.

Refugees in Turkey are eligible to receive both social and financial assistance from the government and various organisations, including food and household goods allowances as well as training, counselling, and disability care assistance. 

The government also covers housing, medical care, and schooling for refugees.

What are Germany’s current policies on asylum seekers?

Germany received nearly 1.2 million asylum applications from Ukrainians and other asylum seekers in 2022 – the largest number in the country since the 2015 Syrian refugee crisis.

Of those, around 244,000 were from Syria, Afghanistan, Turkey, Iraq, Georgia, or other countries, and around 56 per cent of applications were granted asylum protection – nearly double that of the UK.

Asylum is a right enshrined in the German constitution, according to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), which allows asylum seekers to receive a preliminary right to stay in Germany while their application is being considered.

Once an asylum seeker’s application has been granted, they are given a temporary residence permit and are given the same legal rights and protections as any German citizen, meaning they are entitled to social welfare, child benefits, integration allowances, and language courses.

Migrants are initially settled at regional reception centres and then sent to settle at various municipalities across the country.

For asylum seekers arriving from Ukraine, the EU has introduced a measure  allowing them to automatically receive temporary asylum status and claim social benefits in any EU country, including Germany.

In December, a spokesperson for the German Association of Towns and Municipalities told Politico that many municipalities are “reaching their limits” for asylum seekers, leading to calls for more help from the federal government in processing asylum applications and housing migrants.

What are France’s current policies on asylum seekers?

According to daily French newspaper Le Monde, France received over 130,000 asylum applications in 2022, with much of the demand coming from Afghan, Bangladeshi, and Turkish people – a 27 per cent increase in applications from 2021.

Of those, asylum was granted to 29 per cent, which was slightly higher than the year before in France but slightly less than the number of asylum applications granted in the UK.

These statistics do not take into account how many Ukrainians were resettled in France following the outbreak of war with Russia.

People seeking asylum in France are able to apply for an asylum seeker visa prior to arriving in the country by contacting the French embassy or consulate in their home country or in a third country. 

Asylum seekers who arrive in France prior to receiving the asylum-seeker visa, even through illegal means, are not prevented from applying for asylum.

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