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Unpacking Priti Patel's proposed asylum system

Last week, Priti Patel proposed a new asylum system, which she claims will stop people dying when travelling to the UK. In this article, I’ll try and unpack some of the comments in Priti Patel’s statement.

1) ‘Whether people enter the UK legally or illegally will have an impact on how their asylum claim progresses, and on their status in the UK if that claim is successful.’

Firstly, it is important to recognise that it is very difficult for asylum seekers to come to the UK ‘legally’: The only legal way for refugees to come to the UK is via UN resettlement schemes. Less than 1% of the world’s refugees are chosen for resettlement schemes, leaving the rest to remain in their home countries in danger or to try to escape to safety by other means. It is not possible to claim asylum in the UK from outside of the UK: those coming ‘illegally’ have done so because they are not able to come ‘legally’. This is the reason that people smugglers exist.

It has also become harder for families to reunite ‘legally’ since Brexit. Now families can only reunite if their family member in the UK has already been granted refugee status (this can take years to receive). Unaccompanied children can now only reunite with their parents: previously they could reunite with siblings, grandparents and uncles/aunts.

Secondly, it is not illegal to claim asylum: this is a human right. It is a myth that asylum seekers have to claim asylum in the first safe country they arrive in. The 1951 UN Convention states that ‘refugees shall not be penalized solely by reason of unlawful entry’.

Some people ask why asylum seekers choose to come to the UK rather than claiming asylum in other European countries. For a start, only about 5% of refugees who come to Europe journey onto the UK. Those that do continue their journeys to the UK normally have very good reasons for doing so: they may have family members in the UK or speak English. Some have experienced violence at the hands of police in European countries and are too scared to stay there.

2) ‘Since 2015, we have resettled almost 25,000 men, women and children seeking refuge from persecution across the world - more than any EU country.

This stat is based on refugees resettled through UN programmes, which represent a small minority of the total number of refugees settled.

3) ‘The capacity of our asylum system is not unlimited.’

This is obviously true, but the UK currently receives fewer claims than many other European countries. In 2019, the UK ranked 19th in terms of the number of asylum applications per capita for the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Sweden. In fact, the number of asylum claims in the UK in 2020 was 18% lower than in 2019. The backlog of cases and the long waiting times could be alleviated by investing in more resources to process claims, rather than in increased Border Enforcement. 25,000 people may also sound like a high number, but in the context of a population of ~65 million it seems a lot smaller.

4) The majority of asylum seekers coming to the UK are men.

It’s true that more men than women claim asylum in the UK. However, there are good reasons for this: young men are more likely to be approached by groups such as the Taliban and ISIS or be conscripted into the army. Men are also more likely to be seen as threats by governments and to be targeted. It also seems strange to me that being male is a reason not to need protection from war or persecution.

5) This law is needed to prevent ‘dangerous foreign criminals’ from entering the UK.

The basis of the proposed law seems to be that the majority of asylum seekers trying to enter the UK via Europe are a threat to the UK. I have never yet met an asylum seeker who I thought would be a threat to the UK. I have met plenty of resilient, hardworking, generous, intelligent and funny people who it would be a pleasure to welcome to the UK.

What can I do?

Help Refugees has started a petition:

Safe Passage has written a letter which you can sign:

Where my stats are from:

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