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Sun, 29 January 2023

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By Rokhsana Fiaz, Mayor of Newham
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Our immigration system is failing on nearly every front

Our immigration system is failing on nearly every front

(Alamy)

5 min read

A successful immigration policy needs to be based on secure borders.

We need a practical and sustainable procedure for bringing people to the United Kingdom whose skills are needed or to unite with settled families. We need safe and legal routes to bring people here who are genuinely escaping danger or persecution and have a legitimate claim to a secure haven in the UK rather than another destination. We need an efficient and fair way for processing the claims of applicants and removing those who have not reached the threshold, and an effectively functioning department of government to operate it all with pragmatism and compassion.

Unfortunately, on virtually all fronts our immigration system is failing; an unfortunate state of play acknowledged even by successive home secretaries. So, what’s to be done? Any solution needs to be multi-faceted.

If the ill-fated Rwanda scheme is to act as a proper deterrent, then literally planes have got to get off the ground

The whole vile trafficking trade could of course be stopped overnight if the French authorities agreed to intercept the boats at sea and bring passengers back to the French beaches after an expensive but abortive round trip. Alternatively, they could detain the migrant groups intercepted (largely due to yet more British subsidies of French police) heading for the beaches and check their status rather than confiscating an easily replaced boat and setting them free to try their luck again the following night. But why would they do that?

Surely it is not in French interests for the north French coast to be a magnet for “jungle” type camps simply because people think they can get into the UK. But as the Home Affairs Select Committee has proposed, and discussions with certain French politicians have revealed, there is a deal to be done. Intercepted migrants could be taken to the reception centres which UK taxpayers are funding and where they have links with the UK and in some cases could be allowed to apply for asylum here. The condition though must be that the French authorities detain and deport those who are not reasonably accepted rather than set them free and back into the arms of the people traffickers.

Alongside that we need to re-establish proper safe and legal routes so those taking to the boats do have an option if they are genuine asylum seekers, something the French criticise us for. I have called for a Dubs Two scheme which focuses on rescuing some of the most vulnerable unaccompanied children and a generous family reunion scheme for those with close relatives legally resident in the UK.

Currently such routes are only available to those who qualify through the explicit and generous Afghan, Syrian, Hong Kong and Ukrainian schemes and a handful of others through UNHCR.  Having viable alternatives need not mean opening our doors to tens of thousands more people but would certainly mean we could be much tougher on enforcement against a much larger cohort of people who are really economic migrants gaming our system. Safe and legal routes are no good for those who do not have a legitimate and legal claim to be granted leave to stay in the UK.

We need a fast-track system for those still coming from agreed safe countries with arrangements in place to return them as swiftly as possible. Clearly Albanians fit in to this category and we have arrangements with the Albanian government to share intelligence on processing claims and accepting returns.

The latest surge in those identifying as victims of modern-day slavery to legitimise a clandestine arrival clearly needs legislation change, but it does not anyway confer automatic right to residency. Arguably people are better protected by their own government at home, close to friend and family support networks rather than at the mercy of gangs operating in the UK.

For everyone else a 480-day average processing time is ridiculous, and the Home Office really has to bring in more and more productive officials to speed the process up. The delay is unsettling for everyone, unfair for genuine asylum seekers and allows others to game the system until the authorities eventually catch up with them. Pilots of new ways of working are showing that this can be done. Many other countries seem to operate far more efficient systems.

Finally, if the ill-fated Rwanda scheme is to act as a proper deterrent, then literally planes have got to get off the ground whether they are bound for Rwanda or an alternative less controversial destination. Whilst such a scheme is not ideal it is one of the few practical solutions on the table when we have no control over the flow from French beaches or the compliance of certain countries to take back their citizens after they have left for alternative climes.

The real deterrent factor against a migrant crossing the Channel must be that it will be a lottery as to whether they end up in a Kent hotel or on a plane to the southern hemisphere. At the moment the lottery is how long they can spin out a stay in the UK, often aided and abetted by the ECHR, with the real victims those genuinely deserving of safe haven in the UK, and expensive tickets have been selling fast.

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