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|The Jolly George
Who are the refugees?
Countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Pakistan are home to more refugees than all EU countries combined. Within the EU, Sweden and Germany have consistently led the way in accepting asylum claims. France lags behind but for years has still accepted more than twice as many claimants as the UK.
Even Italy, Greece, Bulgaria and Hungary have far more refugees than the UK.
Crossing the Channel
International maritime law dictates that people whose lives are at risk at sea must be rescued.
People intercepted in UK territorial waters will normally be brought into a British port.
In international waters, Britain and France have agreed search-and-rescue zones, but the Dover Straits are so narrow that there are no international waters on the principal route for seeking asylum in the UK.
In August 2020 the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, appointed former Royal Marine Dan O'Mahoney as "Clandesine Channel Threat Commander" to deter Channel crosings. His resources include the use of military drones for aerial surveillance, and funding for extra patrolling on French beaches. These steps are of dubious legality.
We celebrate the work of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) in rescuing migrants in the Channel without discrimination.
Why do Refugees cross the Channel?
Nobody pays people smugglers and risks drowning just for a better job or a free health service. Asylum seekers are desperate, suffering human beings.
People-Traffickers and Fearmongers
Fearmongering - the fostering of a sense of threat - is a political practice often associated with authoritarian
leadership. Even in the UK, a political illiterate may attract attention by spreading alarm about
"ruthless and reckless criminal gangs" and "illegal immigrants".
This is particularly regrettable when it is encouraged by a government minister. People traffickers naturally thrive on the attention of fearmongers. They warn their victims
Legal Alternatives to Channel Crossings and People Smuggling
The Dublin Regulation entitles asylum seekers to live in the same EU country as the rest of their family while their asylum applications are processed.
However under the Dublin III agreement, asylum seekers in the EU could be returned to the first member state in which they sought asylum.
Since the end of the Brexit transition, the UK has forfeited the right to use the Dublin agreement to transfer asylum seekers. We must hope that Britain will continue to allow asylum families to be reunited.
It is also important to note that International Law states that crossing borders without prior agreement in order to seek asylum should not be punished. Furthermore, both Dublin III and UK case law allow for the traversing of other countries in order to seek asylum here in Britain.
The Dubs Scheme
In 2006, after several defeats in the House of Lords, the government agreed to accept an amendment to the Immigration Bill proposed by Lord (Alf) Dubs, who had himself arrived as a child refugee. This permitted resettlement in the UK for unaccompanied refugee children.
Although the government capped the scheme at 480 children, the Dubs amendment still permits them to extend this lifeline to thousands more refugee kids.
Since leaving the EU, the British government refuses to accept any unaccompanied refugee children unless they already have family members in the UK.
Global Resettlement Scheme
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) already runs resettlement programmes in partnership with several countries, including the UK. The UNHCR grants refugee status to some victims of violence and torture, and to vulnerable women and children. The present UK scheme, (The Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Programme, formerly the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Programme) started in 2014 and planned to resettle 20,000 refugees by 2020. It was extended for an additional year in March 2020, but has since been suspended due to the coronavirus, leaving entitled families stranded indefinitely without hope.
A humanitarian visa could, in theory, be granted at a British consulate, embassy or other address overseas, permitting an applicant to enter the UK legally by sea or by air, before applying for asylum. This alone could largely put an end to people smugglers and dangerous channel crossings.
According to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which is part of customary International Law, refugees should never be sent back to a country from which they have fled, where their life or their freedom is threatened.
Asylum seekers are among the most helpless and vulnerable people in the UK. All have lost their homes. Some have been tortured. Many are separated from their families. Their only offence is that they have chosen to settle and work in Britain. They deserve our understanding and compassion.
Instead they experience the "hostile environment".
By contrast, millionaire immigrants are granted a "golden visa" incentive to live and invest in the UK. And most Brits, just by virtue of being born in the UK, can travel anywhere they choose, and are generally welcomed as "expats" when they choose to settle overseas.
Once across the Channel, most people claim asylum, hoping to gain refugee status which gives them the right to remain in the UK. They must prove that they have fled real persecution in their home countries.
They must apply for asylum to the Home Office, which normally accepts an application only if the asylum seeker is already in the UK.
An Immigration Officer then rules on the application.
Partners and children can be included in the application only if they too are already in the UK.
The process is meant to be complete within 6 months, but typically takes longer.
The procedure feels unsympathetic and many claims are rejected outright. In the year ending March 2020, only 54 per cent of initial applicants received a grant of asylum or other form of protection.
If someone gets refugee status, they and their dependants are allowed to remain in the country for five years. After five years, they have to reapply to settle in the UK, making job-seeking and long-term planning difficult.
The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has promised that legislation in 2021 will produce "the biggest overhaul of the UK asylum system in decades".
Immigration rules have been changed to prevent people fleeing war or persecution from claiming asylum in the UK if they have passed through a "safe" third country, including people coming from an EU member state. The changes also prevent asylum seekers from being able to make a claim in the territorial waters of the UK. The UK government will be able to remove refused asylum seekers not only to the third countries through which they have travelled, but to any safe third country that may agree to receive them.
However asylum applicants cannot be deported unless the third country through which they have travelled or another safe state agrees to take them. Our government has negotiated no such return agreements, so this change merely delays decisions on all claims, which is cruel to genuine refugees, and impedes removal of non-genuine cases.
Rejected Claims for Asylum
If asylum is not offered and no other reason to stay in the UK is accepted, asylum seekers must leave the UK, either voluntarily or by forced deportation.
They can appeal against the decision, and over a third of these appeals are accepted, suggesting that the initial procedure may be biassed against applicants.
In particular, women whose asylum claims have been turned down by the Home Office are likelier to have their need for protection recognised by the courts. This is partly because the adversarial asylum system can make it hard for a woman to describe in public the violence she has suffered.
People seeking sanctuary can receive legal aid for these appeals, which sometimes take years. But lawyers who defend people seeking sanctuary risk being labelled by the Home Office as "activist lawyers".
So long as you are an asylum seeker in the UK, you are not allowed to seek paid work or to claim benefits such as Universal Credit. Once you are destitute, you may apply for asylum support which is capped at 39.60 pounds per person per week. (For comparison, the basic level of Universal Credit for a claimant over 25 is just under 95 pounds per week).
Opportunities for learning to speak English may be limited. Your children must go to school, and you are entitled to free health care. However, the complicated NHS charging system often leads to asylum seekers and refugees being wrongly charged for care or denied care altogether.
You get no choice in where you live. You are initially placed for 3 or 4 weeks in hostel-type accommodation, which is sometimes targeted by hostile demonstrators. Dispersed accommodation is then provided commercially on behalf of the Home Office while your application is processed. Some of this is sub-standard, and flouts coronvirus precepts. See Napier Barracks below.
It is exceptionally difficult for failed asylum seekers to obtain suitable accommodation.
Trace the evolution of the hostile environment, and our failure to learn the lessons of the Windrush scandal.
Napier Barracks is a disused army barracks in Folkestone, not far from Hastings. It has been operated, on behalf of the Home Office,
by a contractor, Clearsprings of Rayleigh, Essex, since 2020, though Public Health England had warned the Home Office that the
dormitories were unfit for
accommodating asylum seekers during a pandemic. A recent report by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) anf Her Majesty's
Inspector of Prisond (HMIP) confirmed widespread misgivings.
Refugees reported that living conditions were inhumane. Nearly 200 of almost 400 original inmates caught Covid-19.
A report that the hostel might be moved to Hastings has been denied. Nevertheless more asylum seekers are being moved into Napier Barracks.
The Colnbrook Removal Centre, close to Heathrow, houses detainees awaiting deportation. This removal centre continued to accept more and more inmates despite a severe Covid outbreak.
About half the occupants of immigrant detention centres are asylum seekers; others are refugees whose visas have expired without renewal, or people who have served prison sentences and now await deportation.
The UK is the only country in Europe that practices indefinite immigration detention. This means that migrants and people seeking sanctuary in the UK can find themselves imprisoned, sometimes for months or even years, without having committed any crime. These centres are harsh places, run for profit by private companies like Serco or G4S, and have been the scene of numerous abuse scandals over recent years.
Consider alternatives to detention.
Refugee Status Accepted
Once refugee status is granted, you have just 28 days to find a fresh address and apply for mainstream benefits before you are evicted from asylum accommodation and become homeless.
The government's minimum income requirement for a visa means that your marriage partner from outside the EU still cannot join you from outside the EU.
Employers and landlords are required to check documents to determine whether applicants have the right to enter, stay and work in the UK.
Even teachers, doctors, nurses and social workers are required to act as immigration agents, with less concern for protecting vulnerable people than for enforcing conformity, possibly leading to their own clients, patients or pupils being deported.
Our NHS, which was founded on the principle that everyone deserves the right to healthcare, is being forced to charge asylum seekers thousands of pounds for treatment, resulting in them being afraid to come forward when sick, or to get the Covid vaccine, for fear of being reported to the Home Offfice.
Even the Windrush generation, who have lived and worked in the UK for over 40 years, have had difficulty in getting NHS treatment.
The Right to Work
The right to work would allow asylum seekers
Consider the experience of other host nations.
East Sussex County Council, Hastings Borough Council and individual Hastings Councillors support the campaign to give asylum seekers the Right to Work.
2021 Proposed Revisions to UK Asylum System
In July 2021 Home Secretary Priti Patel published
proposals to recast asylum
legislation in the UK, describing them as the biggest overhaul of the UK's
asylum system in decades. Here are some of the main points:
The government argues that legislation is needed to relieve a 'collapsing' asylum system, to curb people smuggling and to deter refugees and economic migrants from making hazardous journeys to the UK in small boats across the Channel.
Refugees keep the Wheels Turning
Over the centuries, ours has been a country of migrants.
It is common knowledge that many services such as public transport, care homes and the NHS would grind to a halt without the help of people from overseas.
For example, it costs around 25 thousand pounds to support a refugee doctor to practise in the UK. Training a new British doctor would cost 200-250 thousand pounds.
Be on guard against alarmist predictions of over-population. Most refugees are an asset, not a liability.
Hastings Supports Refugees
Hastings Community of Sanctuary, with the support of Hastings Council, is part of the nationwide City of Sanctuary movement.
You can pledge your support here.
The Refugee Buddy Project
The Refugee Buddy Project - Hastings, Rother and Wealden, started in Hastings in 2017 to welcome families to Hastings who were arriving with the Syrian Resettlement Project. It has since spread to Bexhill and beyond.
Volunteers befriend refugee families, helping them to get to know the neighbourhood and the various public services. The Buddies reflect the vision of Rosanna Leal who herself came to Britain as a child refugee.
Sally-Ann Hart MP
Sally-Ann Hart, MP for Hastings and Rye, has not fulfilled hopes that she would join us in welcoming
Instead, having survived allegations of antisemitism and islamophobia, and despite her new-found Green credentials, she has chosen to pose as a bastion of the Rule of Law by "cracking down" on people smugglers (who are criminals) but meanwhile stoking anxiety about asylum seekers who are quite legitimately here to seek safety in the UK.
Sally-Ann Hart supports the Nationality and Borders Bill" now before Parliament. (However she has acknowledged the need to welcome Afghan refugees.
In contrast Huw Merriman, Conservative MP for the next-door constituency of Bexhill and Battle, who has visited a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan and declared:
I do not subscribe to the suggestion that benefits are the driver for immigration. I do not buy the idea that people are willing to risk life and limb and leave a lot of their family behind in another country purely to survive in this country on what is a relatively small amount of money when housing and other provisions are taken into account. I do not believe that at all. I am more inclined to believe that the type of person who has that get up and go and determination is the type of person who will set up their own business, contribute, work incredibly hard, enrich our country and be a success. However, I agree that anyone coming to this country must do so to work, study or shelter from persecution.However, Mr Merriman joined Ms Hart in voting against two key amendments to the latest Immigration Bill; to end Indefinite Detention and to remove rights for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and spouses (often known as Family Reunion). Sadly, the Immigration Bill passed the House of Commons and is now making its way through the House of Lords.
Ultimately there are only two civilised remedies for people smuggling -