The government published a raft of documents relating to asylum and immigration on Thursday, the crucial ones being the draft Immigration Bill and a long-awaited consultation on asylum support. The Bill is the piece of legislation heavily trailed by the government that they say will ‘simplify’ immigration and asylum law – bringing it all into one place. While the Refugee Council supports the idea of consolidating immigration legislation, it has serious concerns over whether ‘simplifying’ just means making the process more rigid and less sensitive to the complex needs of people seeking asylum in the UK. And there are serious omissions – it fails to state the primacy of the 1951 Refugee Convention and places huge emphasis on the need to control borders without recognising the need to ensure refugees are able to get to the UK to access safety here.
The proposals contained in the asylum support consultation go even further to make the lives of asylum seekers harsher once they do arrive and seek refuge here. The government intends to make life even harder for those families whose claims have been turned down but who have yet to leave the UK by forcing them to rely on payment cards rather than cash support. The implications of this are potentially hugely harmful, particularly for children – the cards do not cover travel, so there won’t be money for bus fares, and children will not know what it is to have a few pence pocket money and will witness their parents restricted to a few shops and a very small allowance to try and buy the things they need.
And they propose to re-enact Section 55, rather than repealing it – this is a missed opportunity to banish a discredited policy once and for all, and means further cuts to support for people awaiting a decision are still possible.
Jonathan Ellis, Director of Policy and Development at the Refugee Council said:
“Yet again, the government has demonstrated its total disdain for people who come to our shores in fear for their lives and ask for safety. It is of course important to control borders, but this draft Bill fails to address the need for a route to safety for refugees. The measures proposed will make it harder for people to access the asylum process, further criminalise those who do make it here and remove important safeguards against injustice.
“And today’s consultation on asylum support shows the government is determined to make life as miserable as it can for those who do get here. It has proposed to re-enact the widely condemned Section 55 that was ruled illegal by the courts only 4 years ago. Not only that, the government has proposed that families who are unable to return home will be refused cash support, and forced to rely on a payment card. This makes a mockery of the government’s claim to be safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children seeking asylum as it announced last week.
“This government constantly reminds us that Britain has a proud history of protecting people fleeing persecution. It seems to be doing its best to undermine that history now.”