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New Government, New Opportunity To End The Hostile Environment For Refugees

By July 5, 2024Blog post

“It makes you feel small – you feel you’re not even a human being.”

This is the impact of the asylum system on the people caught up in it, according to one interviewee in our recent report.

Now we know the British public wants this to change. This morning’s election result represents a rejection of the outgoing government’s regressive and hostile approach to asylum.

We call on the new Labour government to listen to voters and recognise their unique opportunity to reset the dial after years of performative cruelty aimed at people seeking asylum.

Fourteen years of Conservative and Conservative-led coalition government has seen successive hostile and oppressive policies, all intended to point the finger of blame for this country’s woes at some of the most marginalised people in our communities.

In the last three years alone, we have seen successive acts of Parliament, each more oppressive and hostile than the last, none of them achievable even on their own terms.

The Safety of Rwanda Act (2024), the Illegal Migration Act (2023) and the Nationality and Borders Act (2022) were all immoral, cruel, costly and undeliverable attempts to stamp all over the right to claim asylum, which was enshrined in the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol.

These Acts looked set to dismantle the universalism of the refugee protection system by offering differing protection to different groups.

Asinine laws – sold to the British public through dehumanising and racist descriptions of people seeking safety – have left tens of thousands of people languishing in the asylum system in our communities, trapped in limbo, unable to even present their case for asylum.

Labour’s stated commitment to repealing the Safety of Rwanda Act is to be welcomed and, to be meaningful, should happen alongside a similar commitment to repealing both of the other Acts that underpin the hostile environment for refugees.

These important first steps away from hostility and towards delivering on Labour’s commitment to rooting out racial inequalities, will need to include an unequivocal commitment to the enduring right to claim asylum.

Efforts to clear the asylum backlog are welcome, but the bigger picture is the system itself. We need a system that supports and welcomes people seeking asylum. Talk of security, criminality, enforcement and returns risks perpetuating, rather than solving, the current dehumanising mess.

Instead, the new Government has an opportunity to commit to creating a just, welcoming and humane asylum system. This involves the UK Government showing leadership and telling the real story, that refugee protection and migration have, for generations, been rooted in the UK’s imperial past (through colonisation, mandates and protectorates) and post-imperial present, shaping why people move, where they try to move to, what happens to them on that journey and when they arrive and who is deemed worthy.

This is the real story of refugee protection in the UK and it needs to be shouted from the rooftops. Countries don’t randomly emit refugees, the volatility that people are escaping is often a consequence of Britain’s actions.

This story needs to be told with a firm rejection of the racist, demonising language used by the previous Government, and which has inspired Far Right activity aimed at people seeking asylum.

Repealing hostile laws, reaffirming the right to claim asylum and telling the so often untold story about why people move can form the beginning of a new approach.

We also need to create an asylum accommodation system that makes people safe, not rich people richer. This means committing to terminate profiteering accommodation contracts , that see private contractors rake in millions from refugees’ misery by providing poor quality housing and makeshift accommodation.

This isn’t about asking for special treatment for refugees, but ensuring that social housing in the UK is transformed through a commitment to ‘homes for all’, which would also include an end to intentionally substandard accommodation such as barracks, camps and barges.

Equal rights with the rest of the population also means finally ending the ban on the right to work for people in the asylum system. It’s a no-brainer supported by 81% of the public, advocated for by the Lift the Ban coalition containing more than 300 members from across the political spectrum.

The right to work can be a cornerstone of a new wealth creation plan; why continue to leave people languishing in enforced poverty?

And finally, there is an opportunity to reduce people’s desperate need for terrifying, dangerous journeys across the Channel, by committing to safe routes, including reviving the UK’s once-flagship Resettlement programme and providing ‘leave to enter’ visas for those already in Europe.

As the refugee I quoted at the start of this blog described, the asylum system currently works to strip people of their humanity. Yet through all this, the hope and resilience of people caught up in this system shines through.

Now our message to the new Labour government is this: let’s work together as legislators, people with expertise through lived experience and refugee rights organisations. Together we can design a refugee protection system that people seeking safety deserve and the British public can be proud of.