I do not underestimate the peril that many will have gone through as refugees from war torn countries, where disease, famine and lack of basic hygiene facilities blight communities. We only have to tune into the current news of today to witness the devastating impact of the unjustified Russian invasion of Ukraine.
I have received correspondence from constituents on all sides of the debate; those who do not wish for any migration to the UK, many who are thankful for the UK’s continued international leadership in settling refugees and asylum seekers, as well as the kind offers of personal support to help those currently fleeing Ukraine.
This can be a dividing issue, something I note which was brought to the forefront during the Brexit debate.
As the elected Government of the day, I understand all views are taken into account in making immigration policy along with the current socio-economic demands of our country. I hope constituents were able to have their say in the public consultation on the New Plan for Immigration which sets out the Government’s intention to build a fair but firm asylum and illegal migration system. You can read the review and Government response here: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/new-plan-for-immigration
I come to this subject mindful that the United Kingdom has a proud record of helping those fleeing persecution, oppression or tyranny from around the world. Alongside providing £10 billion a year to support people through our overseas aid, the UK is a global leader in refugee resettlement. Since 2015, over 185,000 men, women and children seeking refuge have been offered a place in this country, which is more than any other similar resettlement scheme in Europe. This includes almost 100,000 British Nationals Overseas threatened by draconian security laws in Hong Kong, 20,000 through the Syrian scheme, 13,000 from Afghanistan, and around 50,000 Ukrainians. Furthermore, the refugee family route, which enables the spouse or partner and children of a refugee sponsor who are under 18 years of age to join their family member in the UK, has provided more than 39,500 family reunion visas from the same year.
It is also the case that refugees in the UK need to have the freedom to succeed as they settle. This means ensuring refugees have access to the tools required to become fully independent and provide for themselves and their families. This will allow refugees to be in a position to contribute and integrate into the economic and cultural life of the UK.
I am therefore pleased that the Home Secretary has announced £14 million of funding to help newly granted refugees to integrate in the UK. This fund will pilot new approaches across the country to support newly granted refugees to learn English, move into work, access housing and build links in their local communities. Lessons learned from these pilots will inform future support available to all refugees.
I have always believed that resettlement is vital as a safe and legal pathway to protection for vulnerable refugees fleeing persecution. It is right that the Government continues to offer safe pathways for those in need, and I will continue to ensure that this is the case. The launch of a new global UK Resettlement Scheme will now build on the success of previous schemes and continue our proud record of resettling refugees who need our help from around the world.
I state to everyone that contacts me on this topic that I want illegal immigration to stop. I do not want people to take the risk to make a perilous journey in often unstable vessels across the English Channel.
In regard to the UK’s asylum system:
- I believe that access to the UK’s asylum system must be based on need, rather than the ability to pay people smugglers.
- The needs of individuals will be met by Rwanda creating a safe environment for migrants to start a new life, with education, employment, and accommodation.
- Everyone considered for relocation will be screened, interviewed, with access to legal advice and translators as necessary.
- France is a safe country. When people illegally/ irregularly enter the UK via a safe country where they can claim asylum, I question whether they are seeking refuge from imminent peril, the intended purpose of the asylum system.
- The current system is not working. In effect, parallel illegal routes to asylum seem to compliment legitimate asylum routes. The illegal routes are deeply unfair based on the ability to pay people smugglers.
- I am most concerned that the asylum system is costing the taxpayer £1.5 billion a year, the highest amount in over two decades, so the current system is diverting resources away from those that are genuinely in need.
There is no doubt that there is a global illegal migration crisis with long-term pull factors and criminal gangs who treat human beings as cargo, and as such there is no quick fix. Some 80 million people are on the move around the world, uprooted by conflict and instability. Many more are on the move to seek better prospects, driven by a desire for a better life. The result is increased illegal migration flows, including into Europe and onto the UK, with the asylum systems collapsing under the strain of real humanitarian crises and the work of people smuggling gangs.
I am pleased that the Government is committed to taking back control of our borders and restoring trust in our immigration system. The Home Secretary has introduced plans to overhaul our approach to asylum and illegal migration, delivering a fair but firm system.
The legislation and Plan includes fairness towards those who need our help, and in welcoming people through safe and legal routes, but firmness in stopping abuse of the system and expediting the removal of those who have no legitimate claim for protection.
Rest assured the Government is strengthening the safe and legal routes for refugees and has brought forward measures to fix historic anomalies in British Nationality law. I have received correspondence claiming the Nationality and Borders Act is ant-refugee. I would like to re-iterate that the legislation allows the UK to continue to resettle genuine refugees directly from places of danger and to offer refugee family reunions. It improves support for refugees to help them build their life in the UK, integrate and become self-sufficient members of society. The legislation also introduces a new temporary protection status for those who do not come directly to the UK or claim asylum without delay once here, but who have, in any event, been recognised as requiring protection.
The Government is also committed to ensuring that resettlement programmes are responsive to emerging international crises and that persecuted minorities are represented. Furthermore, the wider plan helps refugees once they have settled in the UK through support to integrate into society, help in accessing employment and sponsorship programmes, ensuring those in genuine need will be protected.
Nonetheless, the Home Secretary has been extremely clear that she and the Government see co-operation with international partners as essential.
The Government have announced a Migration and Economic Development Partnership with Rwanda in terms of the processing of illegal migrants, with a view to receiving the protection they need there if their claim is successful. The UK is investing £120 million into Rwandan economic development and growth, with funding also provided to help deliver asylum operations, similar to the costs incurred in the UK. Furthermore, Rwanda has one of the fast-growing economies and enterprise cultures, with growing trade links with the UK, which this scheme will complement as part of our Global Britain agenda.
Under this agreement, Rwanda will process claims in accordance with the UN Refugee Convention, national and international human rights laws, and will ensure their protection from inhuman and degrading treatment or being returned to the place they originally fled.
Rwanda has a credible track record of hosting refugees and working constructively with the UN Refugee Agency to provide food, healthcare and jobs with over 130,000 refugees recently resettled in the country.
I will be interested to see how the scheme progresses because it is important that we tackle illegal immigration and are eventually successful.
Human trafficking and modern slavery are abhorrent crimes. The Government is committed to ending this terrible crime, having introduced the first Modern Slavery Act in Europe in 2015. The Government also established the National Referral Mechanism to identify and refer potential victims of modern slavery and ensure they receive appropriate support.
A key objective of the plan is to deter and prevent illegal entry into our country, through dangerous and potentially fatal journeys in small boats, halting the business model of criminal trafficking networks and protect those who are in danger of being trafficked.
I am determined to bring to justice the ruthless criminal people smugglers whose actions endanger lives. The Home Secretary is taking all action possible to stop criminals exploiting vulnerable people and I offer my support to this important work.
For those confirmed to be a victim of trafficking, the Nationality and Borders Act will provide temporary leave to remain while providing support to engage in the criminal justice system to ensure the perpetrators are rightly prosecuted. I welcome the new policies to ensure that victims are provided with specific mental health support to aid their recovery from their traumatic experiences. Crucially, this includes providing clarity that temporary leave to remain will be provided for any length of time necessary to enable victims to engage with authorities to help to bring their exploiters to justice. I welcome that the Nationality and Borders Act introduces new and tougher criminal offences introducing life sentences for people smugglers.
It is, however, right that the system is protected from abuse.
Unfortunately, some illegal migrants and Foreign National Offenders do take advantage of the system and seek these referrals in order to avoid immigration detention, frustrating their removal from the UK. This is why I support a thorough system in order to determine if a case is genuine.
I can reassure you that the plan and the legislation complies with our global obligations including commitments to the European Convention on Human Rights, the Refugee Convention and the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.
The practice of grown adults masquerading as children claiming asylum is an appalling abuse of our system which needs to stop.
I was present in the debate about immigration and the English Channel crossings late last year where I was able to pick up the point about age verification in the urgent question, you can see my intervention here: https://www.drlukeevans.org.uk/news/parliament-small-boats-debate.
I know that France and Germany and many other European countries use age verification like x-rays, and I am keen to see that happen here as part of the tools in dealing with illegal immigration.
To that end, I welcome that Government reforms will bring the UK's age checking policy in line with those other countries, including through the use of X-rays, CT scans and MRI imaging.
A new Scientific Advisory Committee has been established to provide advice on ways of checking how old an asylum seeker is. The committee, which will comprise a range of expertise (including medical practitioners, academics, scientists and social workers), will look at a range of scientific methods for estimating age. This will also involve consideration of accuracy and reliability, as well as ethical and medical issues.
I do recognise that it is an important, difficult but complex problem to resolve. I have written to Ministers about this topic, including the Home Office regarding international aid and how this could be more closely aligned to inward migration levels and targeted at infrastructure development in countries such as Eritrea and Albania, to reduce the chances for vulnerable individuals to make the difficult journey to the UK, and will listen to forthcoming debates with a view that progress needs to be made, and the desire to make an informed contribution.
There is an obvious difference between organisations like the RNLI and people smugglers who exploit the most vulnerable people. Organisations and individuals who rescue those in distress in the sea will be able to continue to do so under and amendment within the Act to protect those who act to save lives at sea.
This has never been about Border Force or the RNLI escorting boats across the Channel. Once an unseaworthy small boat is in the sea, the priority is to save lives; this is something I agree with and will not apologise for. The Channel is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and those on board the small boats are not wearing suitable life jackets despite the rough waters. It is important not to forget that these people are desperate and will put their own lives and those of their children at risk rather than go back to France.
Nonetheless, I understand constituent concern regarding private entities and charities feeling the need to take on the responsibility to rescue those who cross the Channel. I therefore welcome the announcement that the military has taken operational command of responding to small boats in the Channel, in partnership with Border Force. This will be backed up by £50 million in new funding which will deliver new boats, aerial surveillance and expert military personnel. In doing so, it will bolster Border Force teams and their existing patrol vessels and provide a Wildcat helicopter.
Together this will significantly enhance law enforcement's ability to detect boats and thus reduce any reliance on other bodies.
Furthermore, the increased surveillance will mean better evidence can be gathered for criminal investigations, ensuring more people-smugglers who trade in these life-threatening journeys can be referred for prosecution and brought to justice.
These actions, both immediate and longer term reflects the Government’s urgency in stopping these crossings, saving lives and securing the UK border.
This is a complex and extremely challenging issue. The dangerous people smuggling gangs are risking lives and often threatening violence to those crossing, sometimes being pushed into modern slavery. It is therefore right that the Government is determined to prevent further loss of life in the Channel and break the business model of dangerous criminal people smugglers.
The surest way of saving lives at sea is to stop these crossings and I welcome any safe and legal effort by Border Force to achieve this.
I hope you can see from this response that the Government is taking firmer action to stop these crossings. I am encouraged by this work but will push the Government to continue to act fast to make this route unviable and to end the cruel and dangerous people-smuggling between France and the UK.