Opinion

The government can manage refugees in both a humane and orderly way. If only it wanted to.

With the Illegal Immigration Bill back in parliament, Laura Kyrke-Smith, executive director of the International Rescue Committee UK, explains the choices the government are making — and not making.

Border Force and the military escort migrant ashore at Dover Docks after they crossed the English Channel in Dover, Britain, 27 August 2022. Image: STUART BROCK/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

This week the Illegal Migration Bill is back in the House of Lords. If passed, the legislation will deny protection to many deserving people and land another blow to Britain’s reputation as a compassionate country.

The scenes of death and devastation in Sudan are just the latest reminder of the people at the heart of this bill. As that conflict deepens, thousands of men, women and children are fleeing for their lives. Most of these people will go to safer parts of Sudan, or seek safety in neighbouring countries.

My International Rescue Committee colleagues have reported 30,000 people crossing the border to Chad, and 50,000 people into South Sudan. But a small number will look to Britain for safety, likely because they have family here or an ability to speak English. If they do look to Britain, there is currently no safe way for them to come here.

The government argues that it wants to stop the people smugglers and in turn stop the small boat crossings. It says it has tried ‘every other way’ and that hasn’t worked. But this is simply not true. There are many compassionate, viable and effective alternatives to the course that the government is taking with this bill.

First, rather than punishing people for how they arrived, the government must uphold the fundamental right to asylum. Despite the name of this legislation, the mode of entry or passage through other countries to reach the UK does not undermine people’s right to make an asylum claim. UNHCR has stated that the bill would amount to an asylum ban, in contravention of these established rights. Instead, the UK government should be strengthening the asylum system to ensure that all claims are heard fairly, decisions are made quickly, and the people at the heart of the system can move on with their lives – whether in the UK if their claim is successful, or elsewhere if it is not.

Second, if we want fewer people to take dangerous journeys in search of safety in the UK, the best solution is to expand safe routes. Resettlement schemes, humanitarian visas, and family reunion schemes all offer regular routes to protection for vulnerable individuals. Government ministers have claimed that if Britain were to offer safe routes, the 100 million people estimated to be displaced around the world would come to the UK. In fact, 60 million of those people are displaced inside their own country, and the vast majority of those who leave and become refugees stay in neighbouring countries, often themselves low- or middle-income.

Expanding commitments by welcoming an additional 10,000 refugees a year under the UK Resettlement Scheme equates to only an extra 15 people per parliamentary constituency. A manageable number and, frankly, a relatively small contribution to global efforts to host and resettle refugees – less than the numbers taken by other G7 economies such as Germany, the US and Canada. Yet it could be an invaluable lifeline for a refugee fleeing a war like the one in Sudan, and a powerful signal to the rest of the world that Britain is prepared to step up in times of crisis.

Third, Britain has great potential to engage more deeply in the root causes of global displacement. UK aid is a tremendous tool to alleviate crisis and strengthen communities where conflict is rife, people are fleeing their homes and in need of support, but too much of Britain’s aid budget is being diverted to pay for inadequate hotel accommodation for asylum seekers here in the UK. Ring-fencing at least half of the UK aid budget for fragile and conflict affected countries would be a smart option. But it’s not just about funding. Britain could step up its diplomatic engagement to secure better protection for civilians in conflict, and communities facing disaster.

The government has set up a false choice between an orderly approach to managing refugees and asylum seekers, and a humane one. In fact, there is an approach that is both humane and orderly – an approach that works both for Britain and for the Sudanese person looking for an escape route from a deadly conflict. But only if it is willing to look beyond this bill.

Laura Kyrke-Smith is executive director of the International Rescue Committee UK

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Homelessness has exploded since I slept on the streets. Here's how to end it once and for all
people experiencing homelessness also face stigma
Matthew Torbitt

Homelessness has exploded since I slept on the streets. Here's how to end it once and for all

BBC Breakfast's Naga Munchetty: This is how we stamp out teenage misogyny and sexism
Naga Munchetty

BBC Breakfast's Naga Munchetty: This is how we stamp out teenage misogyny and sexism

Purists might baulk, but Sam Smith headlining BBC Proms opens a pathway to classical music
Sam Smith arrives for the 2023 BRIT Awards ceremony at The O2 arena in London. Image: Andy Rain/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Claire Jackson

Purists might baulk, but Sam Smith headlining BBC Proms opens a pathway to classical music

We need more women MPs – but we can't just expect women to stand for election. We must act
Lyanne Nicholl

We need more women MPs – but we can't just expect women to stand for election. We must act

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know