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Mary Brandon’s Asylum Matters presentation Nov 2020

Whether you missed Mary’s Zoom talk on 19 November 2020, or would like to see the detail again, she’s very kindly sent it through – with some additional helpful notes (see below).

Open the PowerPoint presentation:
UK Asylum & Immigration Policy at the end of 2020

Mary’s additional notes are below. They cover:

  • the Immigration Act 2020
  • the vicious cycyle of media –> public opinion –> government policy
  • holding the line on key objectives.

Immigration Act 2020

The Immigration Act 2020 passed into law on 11th November 2020, after ping-ponging between the House of Lords and the Commons as the Lords fought for the Dubs Amendment to remain (It would have protected the right of lone refugee children in EU states to join their families in the UK).

The new legislation — the full title of which is the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Act 2020 — is relatively short compare to other Immigration Acts, but makes wide-ranging changes to how EU citizens will be treated by immigration law.

The government’s stated intention was to pass an act ending free movement by repealing the domestic legislation which gives effect to EU law immigration rights, paving the way for its new Points-Based Immigration System. The act also addresses the special situation of Irish citizens.

The end of free movement as well as some other protections

  • The act essentially amounts to the repeal of the free movement legislation previously in place, ie repeal of the exemption from the requirement to have leave to remain, repeal of exemption from securing a visa in order to work, repeal of provisions put in place under EU withdrawal act.
  • It also includes a more general section applying broad brush to “Any other EU-derived rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, restrictions, remedies and procedures cease to be recognised and available in domestic law …”
  • Lawyers (including the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, or ILPA) have raised concerns that this might leave legal gaps in some areas unconnected to free movement, including:
    – Protections for victims of trafficking in the Anti-trafficking Directive 2011/36/EU
    – Protections for asylum seekers in the Reception Conditions Directive 2013/33/EU
    – Protections for victims of crime in the Victims Rights’ Directive 2012/29/EU

Henry VIII powers: a blank cheque

(A ‘Henry VIII power’ enables a minister to amend an act of parliament without needing another act of parliament.)

  • The government has given itself broad powers to make changes to primary legislation concerning free movement. These are not time-limited and can be used whenever “appropriate” (a more open test than “necessary”)
  • The act therefore gives the secretary of state powers to introduce wide-ranging changes to the immigration system without substantive oversight — asking Parliament to vote on a “blank cheque”

Questions remain over the new immigration system

  • There is no mention of the EU Settlement Scheme; it is unlikely that the deadline to apply will be met by all, leading to severe hardship and new victims of the hostile environment
  • No mention of what will be replacing this system. Details of the points-based system are yet to be seen, as the government plans to introduce it through secondary legislation, amending the Immigration Rules rather than bringing in new law. This means less parliamentary scrutiny: parliament can either approve or reject a statutory instrument for secondary legislation, but cannot amend it.

‘Fair Borders Bill’ 2021

On 5 October, Priti Patel gave a speech outlining her intentions for immigration and asylum policy, which is the main source of information we have about the proposed ‘Fair Borders Bill’ that we may see in 2021. In the speech, she said:

  • Migrants arriving illegally will face the presumption that they are refused asylum, although each case will be considered on its merits
  • New legal routes will be created for those who are at genuine risk of harm
  • Those applying for asylum will be banned from making “endless” appeals, if rejected
  • New facilities will be opened to house and process asylum seekers
  • Courts will be told to send asylum-seekers back to safe countries they had passed through on the way to the UK
  • Foreign criminals, and asylum-seekers who are not at risk, will be deported.

The vicious cycle: media, public opinion, policy

We’re stuck in a vicious narrative cycle – negative media coverage leading to misinformed public opinion leading to negative (or perceived negative) public attitudes leading back to poor, reactive policy-making. This policy-making is then based not on evidence but on the perceived impression it will make on the electorate.

For example, there is no evidence to suggest the hostile environment succeeds under it’s own terms; it does not deter migration to the UK and it does not increase the number of people who take the decision to return home. You can read more about this in the IPPR report on the human impact of the hostile environment.

The impact of policy decisions is real. This dominant narrative not only affects policy, but the lives and realities of migrants of all kinds living in the UK, and even the population as a whole. Are we creating the kind of society we want to live in, that we can be proud of?

Negative (and false) public attitudes:

  • 4 out of 10 people believe that more than 10% of the population are refugees, when the true number is about 0.23%
  • 78% of the public think the main reason people seek asylum in the UK is to claim benefits
  • Media rhetoric regularly conflates asylum seekers with refugees and migrants
  • Many people overestimate the numbers of asylum seekers in the UK; how much money they receive from the government; and fail to recognise why they are seeking protection.

Therefore their opinions are not based on facts and they are rarely based on personal experiences of meeting and interacting with migrants.

In the past few years, this cycle has been accelerated and the different stages have bled into one another, with far-right media and ‘citizen journalism’ feeding more directly into mainstream media coverage and government messaging.   As a result, the public continue to be misinformed because the information they are receiving from their own government is incorrect and uses toxic language designed to stoke division such as “illegal migrant” to describe refugees and “activist lawyers” to describe those upholding the UK’s laws.

  • Far-right activists focus on visible, tangible migration such as channel crossings and hotel use
  • Movement of focus (and language) from margins to mainstream media
  • Politicians adopting the language of the far-right.

Holding the line

  1. Asylum accommodation In the past year we have seen the introduction of wholly unsuitable, large scale accommodation to house asylum seekers such as military barracks, hotels and large scale facilities where social distancing is impossible and COVID-19 risk is high. There have been a number of outbreaks of COVID-19 in asylum accommodation that have put lives at risk. More information
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-54031553
    https://www.independent.co.uk/independentpremium/uk-news/coronavirus-asylum-seekers-accommodation-home-office-social-distance-a9495161.html
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leeds-53369483
    https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/oct/11/revealed-the-squalor-inside-ex-mod-camps-being-used-to-house-refugees.
  2. Asylum support Currently people seeking asylum are given only £5.66 per day to live on, and they are overwhelmingly banned from working to alleviate this poverty. Our recent research revealed that 84% of asylum-seekers could not always afford enough food to eat every week and only 2% of families could afford the clothes, shoes and uniforms they need for their children. Read more about asylum support rates and the campaign to increase them.
  3. Routes to family reunion protected This was a campaign led by Lord Dubs, a former child refugee himself, who was seeking to ensure that when we leave the EU, we enshrine in UK law the current EU rule that gives unaccompanied asylum seeking children living in EU countries a chance to join their family members in the UK. This is currently possible under EU law, but it will not be possible when EU law no longer applies, unless we make it so. This was attempted in the form of an amendment to the Immigration Bill 2020, known as ‘the Dubs Amendment’, but unfortunately it was voted down in the House of Commons by the Conservatives, meaning that it did not become law. Therefore child refugees living in refugee camps across Europe will not be able to join their settled family in the UK from other EU countries from 31st December 2020, when the Immigration Act 2020 comes into force and EU laws no longer apply.
  4. Resettlement commitments After the tragic death of Alan Kurdi in 2015, the public outcry at the avoidable deaths of people fleeing war and persecution placed pressure on the UK Government to open up safe and legal routes to asylum. This resulted in David Cameron announcing the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Programme, a commitment to resettle 20, 000 Syrian refugees between 2015-2020. In 2019, the Home Office committed to welcoming between 5000-6000 refugees in 2020-2021, but it is not clear whether this commitment will be met. Currently, the Government argues only safe and legal routes to asylum should be used, but questions remain over the accessibility of these routes for many and whether we are doing enough. The UNHCR reports that typically, fewer than 1% of the refugees worldwide are ever resettled. In 2019, it was estimated that 1.4 million refugees who were currently residing in 65 refugee hosting countries worldwide needed resettlement, but many resettlement programmes have been on hold during the pandemic, in our case for much longer than it needed to be, campaigners argue. It is likely we will have to keep pressuring the government to maintain their commitments to refugee resettlement and also to make fresh commitments by showing our support for refugees.
  5. Rights of children protected There have been shocking reports of the conditions unaccompanied asylum seeking children have been living in since arriving in the UK seeking sanctuary and some have been held in detention.
  6. Seeking progressive reform Currently, people seeking asylum are effectively banned from working, preventing them from contributing and providing for themselves and their families while their skills languish and the talents they bring to the UK go to waste. With many people seeking asylum trapped in poverty for many years, the impacts on their self esteem, confidence and both physical and mental health are severe. More about the Lift the Ban campaign.
  7. Resettlement commitments After the tragic death of Alan Kurdi in 2015, the public outcry at the avoidable deaths of people fleeing war and persecution placed pressure on the UK Government to open up safe and legal routes to asylum. This resulted in David Cameron announcing the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Programme, a commitment to resettle 20, 000 Syrian refugees between 2015-2020. In 2019, the Home Office committed to welcoming between 5000-6000 refugees in 2020-2021, but it is not clear whether this commitment will be met. Currently, the Government argues only safe and legal routes to asylum should be used, but questions remain over the accessibility of these routes for many and whether we are doing enough. The UNHCR reports that typically, less than 1 per cent of the refugees worldwide are ever resettled. In 2019, it was estimated that 1.4 million refugees who were currently residing in 65 refugee hosting countries worldwide needed resettlement, but many resettlement programmes have been on hold during the pandemic, in our case for much longer than it needed to be, campaigners argue. Going forward it is likely we will have to keep placing pressure on the Government to maintain their commitments to refugee resettlement and also to make fresh commitments by showing our support for refugees.
  8. Families Together Under the current rules, child refugees in the UK at not able to bring their family members over to join them. Adult refugees may only bring a partner and children, and it is very expensive to secure the legal advice needed. The Families Together Coalition are campaigning to change this.
  9. End to indefinite detention In the UK, we are an international outlier in detaining people, including asylum seekers, victims of torture and of human trafficking,  without a time limit. There is a strong campaign to end indefinite detention convened by Detention Action.