Opinion

Illegal Immigration Act: Is this the end of safe asylum in the UK?

Josie Naughton, CEO of humanitarian aid organisation Choose Love, urges pragmatism and compassion in processing refugees.

An aerial view of the Bibby Stockholm migrant asylum docked in its final position at Portland Port in Dorset.

The Bibby Stockholm migrant asylum docked in its final position at Portland Port in Dorset, welcomed by protesters. Image: Max Willcock/Bournemouth News/Shutterstock

The Illegal Migration Act, passed into law this week, effectively extinguishes the right to claim asylum in Britain for anyone the government decides has arrived ‘irregularly’. It threatens to destabilise refugee conventions, the global cooperation underpinning them, and creates an appalling legacy for the UK. And it will come at huge cost to our economy.

We can all agree that the asylum system is broken. But it is broken because its foundation is based in fear. Fear that people ‘coming here from over there’ are trying to play the system, steal opportunities, or carry out criminal behaviour. 

This is objectively false. Research based on 30 years of data from 15 countries shows that refugees unlock growth, reduce unemployment, and strengthen our economy. Meanwhile, studies in Switzerland suggest each additional year of asylum waiting time reduces a refugee’s employment rate by 5%.

There are 100 million displaced people around the world, and they have the same right as you or me; to live freely, without fear, in a safe home. After all, that concept is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Instead, we have a government that is perpetuating a system towards refugees that is ineffective or malicious, sometimes both.

Elsewhere in Europe, Italy has declared a state of emergency over ‘migrant congestion’, resorting to polarising rhetoric around “clandestine foreigners” instead of the grave humanitarian situation at hand. In the US, despite President Biden’s desire to establish a humane asylum system, proposed measures to deter people crossing the US/Mexico border will only increase reliance on dangerous routes.   

The act of claiming asylum is fundamentally not illegal. Three quarters of those who enter into the UK’s protracted immigration system are granted asylum and this number only increases on appeal. These are people escaping trauma, persecution, conflict and the devastating impact of climate change. 

This act is essentially unworkable. Rwanda remains the only country with which the UK government has secured a removals agreement. If the Supreme Court upholds the ruling that this exact scheme is unlawful, then the Illegal Migration Act will be in complete disarray. Analysis has shown that Rwanda is only capable of accepting a few hundred refugees, far below the tens of thousands of refugees forced to seek safety on our shores. Publicity stunts pandering to people’s fears will not solve the crisis.

Instead, we must focus on facilitating refugees’ integration into new communities. Education, healthcare, and job training programs are not luxuries; they are essential investments in the future of refugees and the economic prosperity of our country.

By providing refugees with access to education, we empower them to rebuild their lives, equipping them with the skills and knowledge needed to contribute meaningfully to their new communities. Healthcare ensures their physical and mental well-being, enabling them to overcome the traumas of their past and embrace a brighter future. Furthermore, job training programs open doors to economic independence, empowering refugees to become self-sufficient, contributing members of society. 

By turning their back, the government is missing out on a huge opportunity for people who are fleeing terrible humanitarian conditions to find a better home, but also to become a net positive contributor to the  communities they join. Pragmatism mixed with compassion is paramount as we stand in solidarity with refugees around the world.

Josie Naughton is CEO of humanitarian aid organisation Choose Love

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