Felicity Laurence and Pal Luthra from the HCOS Campaigns Team explore an alternative to the government’s new plans for refugees

14th-20th June was Refugee Week. Never has it been so pressing to focus upon our fellow human beings fleeing persecution, torture and war to seek sanctuary. This urgency arises because the Government is planning new legislation which fundamentally changes asylum law. 

CREDIT: Care4Calais

The already deeply ‘hostile environment’ will be massively intensified in a new regime of unprecedented harshness. Already, all organisations working to help refugees – religious, legal, medical and other authorities, even the United Nations – are condemning the proposals as profoundly flawed, and potentially unlawful. Refugee Action’s verdict is succinct: these plans take “a wrecking ball to the right to asylum in the UK”. 

There are three main changes. Firstly, the right to asylum for anyone entering the country by an illegal route will be removed, no matter how strong their asylum claim, or how appalling their experiences. This is in direct contravention of both UK case law and international law which stipulates that, irrespective of mode of entry, and of whether or not a person has passed through another safe country, people have the right to claim asylum and have their case considered. 

Secondly, refugees are now to be held in mass ‘reception centres’ while the Home Office finds another country that will accept them. The Home office is currently trialling this idea at the now infamous Napier Barracks, which a recent High Court judgement found to have been unlawfully used by the Home Office. Of the 400 people held there over winter, nearly 200 contracted Covid, receiving virtually no medical care and left to suffer in cold buildings deemed many years previously unfit for any human habitation, including army personnel. 

these plans take ‘a wrecking ball to the right to asylum in the UK’

Lastly, even where leave to stay is granted to anyone whom it proves impossible to remove, they will have to reapply every 30 months. They will never be able to settle and make a new life, and the threat of removal will hang over them forever. This will include trafficked women, many of whom have found support and kindness here in Hastings, and the many people forced into slavery: the most vulnerable of all.

In opposition to these plans, six organisations including The Red Cross, Refugee Council, and four other major NGOs have formed the ‘Asylum Reform Initiative’ (ARI), recently launching their campaign Together with Refugees. They seek to bring people together to build an alternative “fair and humane approach to the UK’s refugee system, including with new safe routes, so that people don’t have to risk their lives taking dangerous journeys”. The fact is that most people desperately needing asylum have no options other than small boats or the back of a lorry. Together with Refugees warns that, incredibly, two thirds of women and children would be turned away under the new rules. 

Home Secretary Priti Patel claims that she has the backing of the majority of the population, but in recent research, Together with Refugees has found that most people want a kinder asylum system. In the South East specifically, “72% of people agree that the UK needs an asylum system that is effective, fair and humane, so it can uphold its responsibility to offer refugee protection to those who need it.”

CREDIT: Safwa Chowdhury, HCoS Campaigns Team

One of the participating organisations is Freedom from Torture (FFT). Pal Luthra is a member of HCoS Campaigns Team, and also of the East Sussex Freedom From Torture Supporters Group. He explains here about their work with survivors of torture – many of whom would be removed perfunctorily under the new rules, without consideration or mercy: 

“I am a proud UK Citizen, an immigrant and a person of colour. My family, on both paternal and maternal sides, were made refugees after the partition of India. I strongly believe that there is a link between my parents’ immigration to the UK and their experience of becoming refugees first. 

“In response to the horrors of World War II, the United Nations agreed the landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which includes the statement: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Torture is now banned in international law, but nevertheless continues across the world. Freedom From Torture was founded in 1985; since then, over 57,000 individuals have received specialist psychological therapies, and have been supported in their recovery from complex post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety caused by torture, and given help to rebuild their lives. 

“The group also works to ensure that survivors are not returned to their countries of origin to face further torture, providing medical-legal reports prepared by FFT clinicians. 

CREDIT: Together with Refugees

“Freedom From Torture joins the new campaign in calling for a better approach to supporting refugees; this means standing up for people’s ability to seek safety in the UK, no matter how they came here. It means ensuring people can live with dignity while they wait to hear if they will be granted protection. It means empowering refugees and asylum seekers to rebuild their lives and make valuable contributions to our communities. It means the UK working with other countries to help people who are forced to flee their homes.”

Together with Refugees has now been joined by over 200 other organisations, including Hastings Community of Sanctuary. We are honoured to have been invited to speak at several national events, as a recognised active grassroots group, most recently during Refugee Week at a workshop to mobilise everyone who feels the Government is getting this wrong. 

The East Sussex Freedom from Torture Supporters’ Group facebook.com/FfTEastSussex is organising a South Downs Coastal Walk on 4th July to raise awareness and funds. To join, please contact: [email protected] 

For more information, please visit our Hastings Community of Sanctuary webpage, where you can sign our Pledge of support and follow us on Twitter. See also Hastings Supports Refugees Facebook and togetherwithrefugees.org.uk

The Government’s new draconian and potentially
unlawful refugee policies:

• No right to asylum if arriving by illegal route – contravenes UK and international law.

• People to be held in mass ‘reception centres’ while awaiting deportation – instead of in communities.

• Threat of removal to always remain for people who entered by illegal route – no possibility of ever
properly settling.

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