Home Kent News What really happens when refugees try to legally claim asylum

What really happens when refugees try to legally claim asylum

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Original article from Kent Live

The last month has seen landmark reforms proposed to the UK's immigration system, which may make the path for refugees to seek asylum even more difficult.

The changes have been proposed by Home Secretary Priti Patel and been dubbed the "biggest overhaul of the UK's asylum system in decades."

There are fears these changes threaten to harshly punish many people entering the country via irregular routes, even if their asylum claims are successful.

New proposals, such as making the permanent refugee status granted to asylum seekers temporary, as well as giving the government powers to move asylum seekers while their claims are being processed, threaten to make even legitimate claimants even more vulnerable.


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Here in Kent, the controversial Napier Barracks site in Folkestone continues to be used to house people awaiting rulings on their asylum claims.

This comes despite a report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons which found Napier, as well as a similar site at Penally in Wales, which has since closed down, to be inappropriate for the purpose of housing refugees.

Much of the dialogue surrounding refugees, especially on Kent's coastlines, revolves around the legality of border crossings.

The reality for many, however, is that even before the new proposed reforms were announced, legally entering the UK to claim asylum is incredibly difficult, if not impossible.

The right to seek asylum

Refugees attempting to cross the English Channel in September


The 1951 Refugee Convention, of which the UK was a founding member and remains part of today, guarantees refugees the right to apply for asylum, and prevents nations from expelling refugees in situations where returning to their home state might cause harm.

However, the reality of claiming asylum is often much more complicated than simply leaving a place where you are unsafe, and going to somewhere you may be more secure.

Many refugees do settle in the first country they enter – 85 per cent of them, in fact, but social pulls such as family connections, language, or national reputations for tolerance may cause refugees to travel further.

Though the British Government encourages asylum seekers to seek refugee status in the first country they enter, there is no UK law that specifically requires this.

As a result, the few asylum seekers that do attempt to travel to the UK are often forced into routes that fall outside safe and legal pathways.

The asylum-seeking process

In order to claim asylum, the vast majority of refugees have to be in the country they are claiming asylum in, as options for applying for asylum from outside the UK are few and far between.

As such, almost all refugees officially enter the UK illegally, before their claim is processed by the Home Office, and they are granted right to remain or are denied protection.

An asylum seeker at Napier Barracks in January

For those in the UK, that almost always entails making an irregular entry into the country, such as through a channel crossing, as many do not have passports, and are forced to use clandestine routes.

Furthermore, many are unable to gain legitimate passage from their country of origin, as by definition refugees are fleeing persecution from the state, or other forces in nations they originate in.

As a result, legitimate avenues to enter the UK are mostly cut off, and experts say that safe and legal alternatives are not available to the majority of refugees.

There are programmes that allow refugees to enter the UK legally, such as the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), that allows refugees to apply to be resettled from the country they are currently in, which is often a neighbouring country to their country of origin.


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However, the restrictions on this are numerous: the refugees must have stayed in a UNHCR camp for a number of years, be registered formally with the organisation, and be approved to be resettled in the UK by the Home Office.

The Home Office's criteria for this are very specific, however, meaning that you have to be particularly vulnerable, either through substantial trauma, complex medical needs or other exceptional circumstance to be eligible.

This leaves many asylum seekers with no other option than taking routes outside of legal boundaries.

'There isn't really a legal way for anybody to cross a border for the purposes of claiming asylum'

Andy Hewett, Head of Advocacy for the Refugee Council, a UK-based organisation that works for and with refugees and asylum seekers, explained that, "there are quite complex reasons why people want to make that journey – but the numbers of people in France that are attempting to make the journey into the UK are very very slim.

"If you look at asylum claims across Europe… France, Italy, Germany, Greece, all take far higher numbers than the UK.

"This perception that the majority of people are sneaking into Europe and… then trying to make the journey in to the UK is completely false looking at the data.

"There isn't really a legal way for anybody to cross a border for the purposes of claiming asylum – it just doesn't exist."

New legislation

This situation is complicated by recently announced plans by the Home Office that would strip the rights and entitlements of those that have entered the UK illegally and have then made successful asylum claims.

Under new rules, any refugees granted asylum will not be given leave to remain for a set period, but instead will be granted temporary rights for 30 months, and will be regularly reassessed for removal.

Furthermore, access to benefits and right to family reunion may be restricted, and refugees may face removal from the UK during the processing of their asylum claim.

In the majority of cases, refugees are granted this right to remain for up to five years, with 41 per cent of applicants granted right to remain in initial rulings, with appeals raising this number to around 65 per cent, though new reforms may make this process more unstable.

Though irregular entries into the UK have not substantially increased over the last decade, especially compared to 2000-2010, clamp-downs on lorry stow-aways in Calais have driven more and more to make the channel crossing in boats and dinghies.

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The result of this is that refugees have become considerably more visible to the general public, resulting in new legislation being put in to place.

Minnie Rahman, Campaigns Director for the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants stated: "Nobody wants to see people forced to make the dangerous journey across the channel.

A man carries a young girl as a group of people are brought in to Dover

"But recent and proposed government policy leaves people with no other option, pushing them into the hands of those willing to exploit them.

"The Home Office continues to ignore all evidence, and has consistently failed to take a pragmatic and logical approach.

"The only way to end these journeys is to is to introduce more safe routes of entry to the UK.

It is shameful that the government is trying to stop people fleeing war and persecution, from rebuilding their lives and reuniting with their families.

"They deserve safe passage to the UK, and the right to have their claims fairly assessed."

When reached out for comment, a Home Office spokesperson said: “The Government’s New Plan for Immigration will bring about the biggest overhaul to our asylum system in decades.

“It will mean our asylum system is fair but firm, welcoming those who come to the UK via safe and legal routes while cracking down on people smuggling gangs.

"We are already in discussion right now with partner organisations that we can work with on safe and legal routes. The Home Secretary has launched this consultation and will set out further detail in due course.

“We make no apology for seeking to fix a system which is being exploited by human traffickers who encourage to people to risk their lives crossings the Channel. Close work with law enforcement colleagues in France is stopping migrants from leaving French beaches.”

Original Article