Politics

Ministers ‘happy to spend millions on drones’ but ignore refugees in Budget

Rishi Sunak did not mention refugees in his Budget speech and announced "nothing" which will address the UK's asylum crisis, experts say.

Rishi Sunak leaving No 10 Downing Street. Charities said he is doing too little for refugees

Sunak only mentioned migrants in his speech to introduce a new specialist work visa. Image: Number 10/Pippa Fowles

Campaigners say Rishi Sunak has his priorities wrong after he failed to commit to ending the UK’s refugees and asylum system crisis.

According to this week’s Budget small print, the government will spend £458million on the asylum system by 2025. That’s only a fraction more than the £412m it could be spending each year on imprisoning asylum seekers if harsh new immigration law is passed, Refugee Council analysis showed.

The only time the chancellor mentioned immigrants in his speech was to say that a third of the UK’s science Nobel Laureates have come to the UK from overseas while introducing the new scale-up visa to bring specialists in for British businesses.

But Sunak’s announcement did little to address the crisis facing asylum seekers arriving on UK shores, frontline experts say.

The government “failed to get its priorities right” on refugee policy, said Lisa Doyle, director of advocacy and engagement for the Refugee Council.

“While it has been happy to spend millions on drones to track the English Channel, there is no long-term commitment to refugee resettlement, to ensure refugees fleeing regimes like the Taliban can arrive safely in the UK.”

Sunak’s Budget also failed to address the emergency facing asylum seekers already in the UK. There is a backlog of more than 70,000 people waiting for Home Office decisions on their asylum applications, government figures from August showed. That’s up 73 per cent in two years despite falling numbers coming to the UK in search of safety.

While this is due in part to the pandemic, it is largely down to the share of people receiving a decision within six months falling “dramatically” over the past decade, according to Dr Peter William Walsh, researcher at Oxford’s Migration Observatory.

Vulnerable people are “in some cases waiting for years with their lives on hold,” Doyle said. “Yet nothing announced [in the Budget] will do anything to improve our system of refugee protection, or to ensure that refugees are better able to integrate when they do receive refugee status.”

The UK’s scheme to help women, girls and at-risk minority groups flee Taliban violence in Afghanistan is still not open three months on from the fall of Kabul, The Big Issue revealed earlier this month. Ministers said it would resettle 5,000 people in its first year and another 15,000 over five years.

Home Secretary Priti Patel came under fire this week for spreading “dangerous myths” about refugees making treacherous journeys to the UK because they want to stay in British hotels – where they are given £8 per week to live off and denied the right to work – claims which Refugee Action warned “quickly become the rallying cries of the far right”.

The Budget did not address how the government will prevent creating a more expensive asylum system under Patel’s upcoming Nationality and Borders Bill, Doyle said.

“Proposals to criminalise asylum, and to increase the waiting time for those seeking protection in the UK, will only lead to a more expensive and inefficient system,” she said.

People seeking safety in the UK without already holding a valid visa could be jailed for up to four years under the new legislation. It will be five times more expensive than simply housing people in the asylum support system, according to Refugee Council analysis.

Doyle added: “Government should prioritise protection over deterrence, to both maintain the UK’s record of supporting refugees, and to ensure our asylum system is cost-effective at the same time.”

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