Liberal responses to the government’s farcical (and dangerous) asylum policies

As the government rushes through the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) bill before Parliament, it was encouraging to see its unanimous rejection at York conference, which adopted ‘Beyond Rwanda: a fairer way Forward on Asylum’.

In my speech I highlighted the farce in three stages that is the government’s ‘Rwanda plan’:

First, the government passed the Nationality and Borders Act, creating a two-tier system of refugees (which it never activated), proceeding to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Rwanda.

Second, the Supreme Court finds the plan to be unlawful.

Third, the government signs a treaty, which the cross-party Lords International Agreements Committee recommends not to ratify until Parliament is satisfied that the protections it provides have been fully implemented. Why? because Parliament is essentially asked to determine that Rwanda is safe even though the Supreme Court has clearly determined it is not.

Lest we forget, in 2023, several asylum seekers received protection in the UK because of their fear of persecution in Rwanda.

The ‘Safety of Rwanda’ Bill is outrageous on multiple levels:

First, the UK, a ‘global north’ country, is paying a ‘global south’ country to both determine asylum applications and to host those of them found to be eligible for asylum – this is a manifest act of counter-responsibility-sharing

Second, unlike EU law, where Article 38 of the Asylum Procedures Directive requires that an asylum seeker sent to a country outside the EU must have a relevant connection to that country, those removed to Rwanda have no such connection

Third, those removed to Rwanda, even if found to be refugees under the Rwandan asylum system, can never come back to the UK: they face a lifetime ban for daring to seek asylum here.

Fourth, the government admits on the face of the bill, as it must under section 19 of the Human Rights Act, that it is unable to state that the bill is compatible with the ECHR; it proceeds to authorise ministers to ignore an interim order by the Strasbourg court to prevent removals; and it expects civil servants to go ahead with such prohibited removals

Finally and to top it all, the government tells our courts they cannot make a determination that Rwanda is unsafe even if the facts so require

An amendment that I proposed to the foreign policy motion ‘Liberal values in a dangerous world’, and which conference adopted, sketches out the alternative. We must:

First, introduce a humanitarian visa scheme with online applications from outside the UK, a policy that we adopted in 2021 and on which Dr. Bradley Hillier Smith and I have previously written for LDV

Second, open community/individual sponsorships ((in line with the ‘Homes for Ukraine’) and family visa schemes to all nationalities, not just for Ukrainians. Ask yourself: which were – and are – the main nationalities of those who arrived in the UK by boats? They’re Syrians, Afghanis, Somalis, Iranians, Sudanese. No Ukrainians. The reason is obvious: because Ukrainians can get here legally.

Which schemes exist for those with family connections here fleeing conflicts in Sudan, the DRC, or indeed horrifically in Gaza? NONE. Can a British family open their home to an Afghani woman, to a gay Iranian, or to a Sudanese family now living in a makeshift tent in Chad? NO.

Third, extend resettlement schemes so that the UK takes its fair share (and not just 736! individuals as in 2023). The party’s existing commitments, proposed by Seekers of Sanctuary (of which I am a board member) and adopted by the party in 2018, are to resettle at least 10,000 refugees each year, and to offer sanctuary to 10,000 unaccompanied minors over 10 years

Fourth, reach new arrangements with the EU for safe and legal returns given we are no longer subject to the Dublin regulation after Brexit.

Above all, we must stop criminalising seekers of sanctuary for exercising their right, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to ‘seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution’.

* Dr. Ruvi Ziegler is Associate Professor in International Refugee Law at the University of Reading. He is an Advisory Council member of Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary.

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10 Comments

  • David Wright 21st Mar '24 - 2:05pm

    Here is more evidence that the Government’s approach to refugees is not only inhumane and very expensive, it won’t even work:
    https://theconversation.com/ive-spent-time-with-refugees-in-french-coastal-camps-and-they-told-me-the-governments-rwanda-plan-is-not-putting-them-off-coming-to-the-uk-221798

  • Suzanne Fletcher 21st Mar '24 - 4:29pm

    Excellent article by Ruvi highlighting both the inhumanity and illegal aspects of the Bill.
    I do wish that our party would use some more of the party policies that we have in the ongoing row about Rwanda, use of hotels, boats crossing the channel and detention.
    Humanitarian Visas. (2021 policy) They would make a huge difference and would mean that very many would not be needing to come here on a dangerous journey in a small boat. Ruvi, Bradely and myself all made this point in the speeches we made, but were not even mentioned in the press release on the motion.
    Family Reunion. (2021 policy) Again the 3 of us spoke about the need for better ways of families being able to reunite. Again it would stop a number of people needing to cross the channel dangerously. Again no mention of it.
    Better was ways of decision making. (2018 policy) Bradley and I both spoke of our radical party policy on decision making that would go a long way to swifter, better, decisions. Not only are there very long waits for decisions (often many years), but they are wrong, 67% of those who appeal are granted leave to remain. There would be no need for hotels to be used if decision making were hastened, but our party does not say this. (to be continued in next post)

  • Suzanne Fletcher 21st Mar '24 - 4:29pm

    (cont)
    Alternatives to Detention. (2014 policy) There is the scandal of indefinite immigration detention, but it has been our policy to promote alternatives since 2014. There have recently been pilots of alternatives, funded by the Home Office, directed by UNHCR, that have been very successful and even saved a lot of money. I talked about this in my speech too. But it has not been mentioned once by the party in recent years.
    This is just a few instances of some of our excellent policies that are humane, compassionate, just and even save money. It is beyond me why they are never talked about.

  • Martin Gray 21st Mar '24 - 6:38pm

    With net migration currently at 600k + a year – how sustainable is it to add a city the size of Bristol to the population every year…
    We’ve 1.1 million on the social housing waiting list alone . With immigration in the top three concerns for voters & has been for considerable time – that concern is not in regards as having too little immigration. Asylum seekers arriving on the Kent coast are coming from a tented city in Calais with a portaloo – to say the British asylum system isn’t generous is completely misleading.
    On the doorstep at the GE , isn’t it awful just won’t cut it with most voters as they want those with unsuccessful claims returned forthwith.
    As for the Dublin agreement – it was worthless as recipient countries failed cooperate in the return process – only a small majority were ever returned under that process ..

  • Nonconformistradical 21st Mar '24 - 11:28pm

    @Martin Gray
    “With net migration currently at 600k + a year”
    Most of which is ‘legal migration’ isn’t it – not people trying to get in to the UK by small boat, in the back of a lorry etc.?
    https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2023/nov/23/net-migration-to-uk-hit-record-745000-in-2022-revised-figures-show
    “Net migration boosted the UK population by a record 745,000 in the year to December 2022, fuelled in part by a surge in overseas professionals arriving to work in the NHS and care homes…….”

  • Martin Gray 22nd Mar '24 - 4:18am

    @nonconform….How many is too many – do you have a figure in mind ? It’s a question politicians will get asked in the GE & on the doorstep. Do you think 750k a year every year is sustainable – more than the a city the size of Bristol…As for the arrivals on the Kent coast – they are coming from a tented city in Calais – to a hotel with meals & a weekly allowance – to say the UK asylum is not generous is completely untrue . In other parts of Europe – Greece especially they are held in appalling conditions in Geek jails . & the EU lines the pockets of Libyan warlords picking up migrants on the coast and holding them in horrendous conditions – that’s the parties beloved EU for you….

  • @Martin Gray does raise good questions. More generally I think we’re right to condemn the Safety of Rwanda bill with its daft attempt to define a fiction into law, but at the same time I don’t see that our alternative proposals are any more workable. @Ruvi’s suggested aim of settling 10K refugees a year sounds reasonable – but according to the UNHCR there are over 35 million refugees across the World (https://www.unhcr.org/uk/about-unhcr/who-we-are/figures-glance). How on Earth do you decide which of those people will be the the lucky 0.028% whom we’ll settle in the UK? And that’s even before you consider the 110 million forcibly displaced people in the World plus countless others who are not displaced but still at high risk of persecution.

    Calling for ‘safe and legal routes to sanctuary’ makes for a nice sounding slogan, and I’m sure it’s something we’d all like to see in principle, but I have yet to see any sensible suggestion for how it could actually work in practice. One obvious problem is that if such a legal route existed and was widely available, then the numbers of people applying to it would almost certainly be vastly greater than our capacity to settle people – so what do you do with everyone else? A workable asylum policy has to address these kinds of problems.

  • Nonconformistradical 22nd Mar '24 - 11:45am

    “according to the UNHCR there are over 35 million refugees across the World”
    And there is little discussion about why this is happening or what could be done to reduce the number of refugees in the first place.

  • The single biggest objection to raise against the plans to deport people to Rwanda is that Rwanda has repeatedly been found to have a very poor human rights record, therefore it is not and cannot be considered to be a safe country.

  • Dr Ruvi Ziegler 22nd Mar '24 - 4:26pm

    https://www.irishtimes.com/crime-law/courts/2024/03/22/irelands-declaration-of-uk-as-safe-third-country-unlawful-rules-high-court/

    In an interesting twist, the Irish government’s designation of the UK as a safe country (made post-Brexit) was ruled unlawful by an Irish court. This should give us pause.

    Indeed given the genuine risk of chain refoulement (the UK sending asylum-seekers to unsafe countries) this is not an unreasonable determination, and passing the Safety of Rwanda bill will make a bad situation worse.

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