We have positive answers on asylum issues – let us shout them out

There is no need to go into the detail of the current crisis in the asylum system. Everyone is talking about it but are the Lib Dems pushing and promoting our well thought out policies, agreed by the party, that have positive solutions?

After two policy papers that an enormous of work had gone into, we can talk honestly and with passion on the issues, but do we? Parliamentarians, policy units and members put in a lot of work, but was it worth bothering?

I alternated between shouting at the radio and despair on hearing Yvette Cooper on the Today programme yesterday morning. I have a lot of respect for her usually but she was refusing to commit to the right to work for asylum seekers, had little to say about safe routes for refugees, had no mention of humanitarian visas, and only vague swipes at the decision making process.

But where are our voices on these issues?

Yes, there are very justified attacks by Lib Dems on how the Government is tackling, or just ignoring, these issues. But where are the alternatives? They don’t have to be thought up, or worked out, or agreed with someone, we have them.

Please let us shout it out that there are alternatives to the shocking rate of decision making on asylum cases. It is in Decision making on asylum issues (PDF).

There are well thought out alternatives to asylum seekers not being able to work, in Right to Work on Asylum Seekers (PDF).

We do have a lot to say about humanitarian visas, Humanitarian Visas: A Much Needed Life-Line for Refugees (PDF) that would make a tremendous difference to the people in the camps in Calais, before the dangerous channel crossings.

We have long promoted safe routes for refugees.

We all know that the press doesn’t print what we want them to, that media opportunities are not a given, and it is difficult to make voices heard. But if we don’t try, and don’t keep on pushing positive alternatives, the messages will never get out there.

There are papers on all these issues at Policies (Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary).

A lot of work went into formulating the papers. We should use them and shout out on asylum seekers and refugees.

* Suzanne Fletcher was a councillor for nearly 30 years and a voluntary advice worker with the CAB for 40 years. Now retired, she is active as a campaigner in the community both as a Lib Dem and with local organisations and author of "Bold as Brass?", the story of Brass Crosby.

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  • There was an open door for Lib Dems to walk through with clear policies to offer. I’m not sure if echoing Labour silence makes any sense as a concept but we need to avoid it with positive contributions such as those Suzanne outlines.

  • David Evans 24th Nov '22 - 5:22pm

    The problem we face remains the same as it has for too long – we have a party hierarchy which is so timid, nothing ever happens to get us noticed.

    The Conservatives under Truss were in crisis. We cancel (N.B. not postpone) conference. Open goal and what do we do? Take the ball home with us and refuse to come out until next March! Paddy would have personally marched anyone so anodyne straight out of the office!

    We have apparently spent up all the windfall of new members and donations from our principled stand on Brexit. What on? It seems a good part of it was spent on keeping the pressure on the Tories under Boris Johnson and winning 3 by-elections. But did we go out after each one and tell members “This is what we have achieved, but it costs a huge amount. Please give us a £10 note and it will enable us to keep doing it. No! We just keep spending it until it is all gone.

    Membership rose to over 125,000 at the time of the 2019 election, boosted by lots of good, liberal, pro Europeans joining us. Did we have a strategy to make them really welcome and encourage them to stay? The question was asked, but answer came there none.

  • Any opportunity to set the wider community and press straight about our stance on immigration we should be shouting up. We need to highlight the gaps in Labour’s policies about how we treat those seeking asylum. If ever there was a time to have a grown up debate about how we look at immigration in the U.K. post Brexit and at the precipice of climate related migration, it must be now and we must lead it.

  • Suzanne Fletcher 24th Nov '22 - 7:05pm

    @Jemma Joy is right.
    Today, this is a prime example of our public comment on Braverman’s performance at the select committee the other day. True, but what are we proposing to do about it. We have in depth policies on Safe and Legal Routes, condensed in policy motions. Why not say so? If not say, why have policy motions?
    “Braverman’s inability to answer reveals that under the Conservatives, there is no safe and legal route for refugees to claim asylum in the UK.
    That fact hands power to smuggling and trafficking gangs to profit from dangerous Channel crossings.”

  • Ruvi Ziegler 24th Nov '22 - 7:46pm

    Suzanne has rightly highlighted the policies that we in Lib Dem for Seekers of Sanctuary have been advocating.

    It is worth noting that the party adopted in Autumn 2018, with our assistance and support (and accepting our amendments), a comprehensive policy on migration & asylum (motion F16: https://www.libdems.org.uk/autumn-18-f16-a-fair-deal-for-everyone-prosperity-and-dignity-in-migration).

    Most relevantly to the current debate, last Spring, our LD4SOS amendment (which I had the honour of moving) calling for ‘The creation of pathways for submission of humanitarian visa applications, including at embassies and consulates at countries of origin and at channel crossings’ was accepted as part of motion F27 on ‘Safe and legal routes’ (https://www.libdems.org.uk/f27-safe-and-legal-routes).

    That Tim Laughton’s lucid grilling of the Home Secretary re the absence of such routes received considerable media attention while our clear, long-standing, coherent policy does not is unfortunate – we can and should do better as a party in communicating our policies.

  • Martin Gray 24th Nov '22 - 7:50pm

    Under FPTP labour will need to win back those 60 seats it lost @ the 19 GE before it can start to make inroads into a Tory majority…52 of them were leave seats – they know full well those socially conservative voters would want those asylum seekers returned asap …At a cost of nearly 7 million a day – 2.5 billion a year spent on hotel accommodation housing nearly 40k asylum seekers – leading to much anger amongst voters & let’s be honest about that …Given that our social housing waiting list is above 1 million & the average bidding on available properties is over a 50 – 1 ratio….Making a case for a more liberal system is going to be a very difficult sell on the doorstep…

  • Suzanne Fletcher 24th Nov '22 - 8:48pm

    @Martin, quite. Even if national media don’t pick up at least our own Lib Dem members need to know. they all have friends and family that they talk to. USE us!

  • Katharine Pindar 25th Nov '22 - 12:20am

    You are so right, Suzanne and Ruvi. But we need to keep our messages simple. I think, David Gray, that the public in general is not so opposed to the increase in immigration as is the right-wing of the Tory party, because we all see that many more workers are currently needed, especially in the NHS and caring services, but also in hospitality and construction – the latter to help build many more houses to deal with the housing shortage. People certainly don’t like the thought of 41,000 having arrived irregularly in small boats this year, but we can point out that if they had indeed been given means of application at British embassies and consulates and in France, as we have passed policy to require, they would not have had to come that way: the legal routes as we (and liberal-minded Tories) have pointed out, are far too few.

  • Mick Taylor 25th Nov '22 - 7:14am

    @Martin Gray. You are unduly pessimistic about the public’s view on. immigration. I have found that once you delve into what people think they can be persuaded that immigration is good for the UK. Indeed, many people refer to some jobs like vegetable fruit picking as ‘immigrants’ jobs’. I note that the Home Secretary, in her increasingly xenophobic comments now wants to cut back drastically on foreign students at universities, which will make some universities unviable as they rely on income from overseas students to keep them afloat. I suspect that the public won’t support her on that either. Whilst in the long run we should not be taking skilled medical professionals from poorer countries, in the short to medium term we cannot avoid it until we can train people in the UK to do this vital work, which means far more supported training courses and much better pay.
    The Tories (and sadly Labour too) use immigration as dog whistle politics to keep their voters angry and on side, we should not be doing so. LD4SOS are doing a good job and the party leadership should be espousing their cause much more vigorously.

  • Martin Gray 25th Nov '22 - 9:35am

    Door knocking has taught me otherwise…
    FOM facilitated Brexit.
    Parties know by thier own private polling that this is indeed a subject that’s of concern to the public.
    The Tories realise that as bad as the situation is – the perception amongst many voters is that labour & us would be ‘softer’ on immigration .
    It will be those socially conservative voters that will decide the next GE .

  • David Garlick 25th Nov '22 - 10:09am

    @Geoff Reid
    “There was an open door for Lib Dems to walk through with clear policies to offer.”
    I absolutely agree Geoff and it is not just on this issue. On Green issues on the finances etc we could and should be leading the conversations.
    Slamming the Conservatives for their clear and obvious (apologies to VAR) failings is all very well and possibly necessary but the public are crying out for the Party who know what to do to sort things out. More Policy promotion is, in my book, a clear vote winner.

  • George Thomas 25th Nov '22 - 1:01pm

    “We have long promoted safe routes for refugees.”

    We’ve long promoted safe routes for asylum seekers – based on evidence so far, many of which will be refugees or people we owe humanitarian protection to – but even this Tory government is happy to provide safe route to those they think are the right sort of refugee. That’s why many Ukrainians and Hong Kong citizens aren’t looked up in overcrowded houses, although their journey has not been as easy as it should have been.

    Right to work in 3 months of making asylum case? I will need to think this over a little further. Vast, vast majority of people claiming asylum are successful in their claims so there are several obvious benefits to getting them active in community as soon as possible. Would resources be redirected to allowing i) safe routes into UK, ii) decision making process in more acceptable time frame and iii) greater efforts to deport those without right to reside?

  • Suzanne Fletcher 25th Nov '22 - 5:43pm

    @George Thomas. Yes do think further. you might find the Right to Work paper that there is the link to in my article helpful in that.
    One of the problems is the enormous amount of time that people claiming asylum have to wait, and decisions have to be not just quicker but fair. I have literally just been talking to someone who was initially refused and put straight into detention when he arrived here. After 8 years they have accepted that he and his wife (and now 2 children) can stay. They are highly qualified, have done an enormous amount of voluntary work in the community whilst waiting, but of course it is a very long time since they were in full time professional work to get started again now.
    Our policy document on Decision Making sets out ways of better decisions quicker (the succesful appeal rate on decisions is high).
    we have so many positive solutions and ways forward, but all that is said is that we are against what the government is doing and how it is doing it.

  • Mick Taylor 25th Nov '22 - 5:54pm

    @Martin Gray. We must have been knocking on very different doors. Brexit was aided because people thought ALL immigration was controlled by the EU and you can guess what sort of immigrants they didn’t want. There was acceptance of people from the EU working here and again we know why that was.
    Unless we go out and explain to people why people coming here to work is a good idea and that refugees and asylum seekers want to work then why would they know?
    The myth that people come here to live off benefits is a lie that we need to expose.
    The UK economy, or large parts of it, relied on freedom of movement to get the workers they wanted and is now suffering a chronic labour shortage.
    Continuing to pretend that we support very tight immigration restrictions (or at least not openly opposing them) means we betray our Lib real values and since no-one believes us anyway what good is it doing us?
    Personally I would support an open door policy, because people mainly come here to work and stop coming when there isn’t work, but I accept that that isn’t the party’s position.

  • Martin Gray 26th Nov '22 - 6:39am

    Mick …
    Many voters wanted an end to FOM. The referendum gave them that chance. It was very apparent when canvassing. Looking around those communities, who could blame them for voting to leave…
    Let’s be honest & not deny that a significant proportion of the voting public want asylum seekers returned forthwith… Nothing pessimistic about stating a fact.

  • Mick Taylor 26th Nov '22 - 6:56am

    Martin Gray. Your experience was obviously different from mine. Current polls show that immigration is not as high a priority as it was as people realise the contribution that immigrants have made to the NHS and to important farming areas.
    Of course, if people are consistently lied to by politicians using dog whistle politics then it is hardly surprising if they start to believe it.
    Our role is to tell the truth about immigration as well as the EU and the economy. There is precious little sign we are doing so.

  • Peter Hirst 29th Nov '22 - 3:50pm

    To be an economic migrant I presume you need to have a job offer or be able to support yourself for a period. If you have a job offer then does your employer provide the documents for you to travel? If not then is there a way of arriving that is legitimate? Perhaps family can guarantee you. It would seem reasonable for anyone to be able to apply for econonic migrant status from abroad though it might cost something.

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