Safe and legal routes must be a pillar of our asylum system
The recent heart-breaking incident in the Channel demonstrates that the current asylum system is broken. At least 27 people, including 17 men, seven women - one of whom was pregnant - and three children drowned in the deadliest crossing on record. If something positive is to come from this, as it did from the tragic death of Aylan Kurdi in 2015, it will be a major shift in the will and determination of governments to act decisively and swiftly.
In the UK, our forthcoming Nationality and Borders Bill provides an opportunity to fix our asylum system so that it works in the best interests of everyone.
I am pleased that the Home Secretary has repeatedly outlined the importance of safe and legal routes by which refugees can make their way to the United Kingdom. The existence of safe and legal routes takes away the reliance on dangerous Channel crossings, which are abused by people smugglers in their greedy attempt to profit from the misery and destitution of refugees and migrants.
On 18th March, the new global UK Resettlement Scheme (UKRS) commenced following the closure of the Vulnerable Persons and Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Schemes. Whilst the number of people the UKRS has taken in during the first half of 2021 has been relatively low, MPs have received assurance from the government that this is due to the one-of-a-kind circumstances of the pandemic.
The people that are crossing the Channel are not ‘illegal immigrants’
As the country returns to normality, I hope that the number of people who are given safety through this route increases. We absolutely need to work with local government, and the local authorities in my constituency have done an excellent job of housing asylum seekers and refugees within the local community. We must ensure that local authorities have the resources and assistance from central government in fulfilling their duties.
We must also be mindful of our tone and language in this debate. The people that are crossing the Channel are not ‘illegal immigrants’. Those crossing the Channel are allowed under our laws to seek refuge in the United Kingdom. It is only once they reach our shores that they have their asylum claims processed. If they are successful, they are deemed as refugees, and it is only if they are unsuccessful that they are deemed to have no legal status to be in our country.
I know that international agreements to return failed asylum seekers are a priority for this government. Removing those with no right to be in this country, is essential if the public is to have faith in our asylum system.
Furthermore, we need to work closely with our international partners to ensure that we are disrupting the people smugglers wherever they are. The sharing of intelligence and resources is an important component of this. I believe that there is also greater scope to work with Frontex – the European Border and Coast Guard Agency and the government should explore this avenue further, building on the work Frontex has been doing in the Mediterranean.
We must also not be afraid to look at and explore innovative solutions. For example, we could give asylum seekers the chance to have their applications processed in British Embassies around the world, or perhaps online which could significantly reduce the number of people crossing the channel.
It is important to note that once asylum seekers arrive in the UK, that is often the beginning of their journey through the asylum system and not the end. Genuine refugees should be integrated and those who have failed in their claim should be deported, as soon as feasibly possible. However, this can only happen if we are processing claims efficiently and quickly.
The government must ensure that applications are decided within a 6-month period and where they are not, asylum seekers must be given the right to work so they are not left languishing, with no way to contribute to our society. Lifting the ban on asylum seekers working would also contribute hundreds of millions of pounds a year to the public purse.
It is only by bringing in safe and legal routes, enhancing cooperation with our international counterparts and smashing the business model of the evil people smugglers can we ensure that such a horrific tragedy does not take place again.
David Simmonds is the Conservative MP for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner and chair of the APPG on Migration.
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