There is little evidence according to the Government that the New Plan for Immigration will be effective in deterring asylum seekers from entering the UK in lorries or small boats. In fact it is felt that the Government’s proposal could have the opposite effect by encouraging those seeking asylum to attempt more dangerous ways of entering the UK.
The New Plan for Immigration is part of the Home Office’s Nationality and Borders Bill, the core policy of which is meant to deter people from entering the UK ‘illegally’ by small boat or lorry.
The plan to ‘deter illegal entry into the UK’ is intended to break the business model of people smuggling networks and to protect the lives of those they put into grave danger. Those seeking asylum and wishing to come to the UK will be encouraged to take ‘legal’ routes or be invited to the UK via resettlement schemes. The Home Office hopes to deter people from attempting these dangerous journeys even more by strengthening penalties for illegally entering the UK.
In The Equality Impact Assessment, the Home Office admits that the plan to ‘increase security and deterrence’ could encourage people to ‘attempt riskier means of entering the UK’ and it also states that’evidence supporting the effectiveness of the security and deterrence approach is in fact limited. It is felt that the people who may attempt these riskier routes will be younger males, probably from Iraq and Iran.
To justify this approach, the Home Office says that “deploying these measures does advance the legitimate aim of encouraging asylum seekers to claim in the first safe country they reach and not undertaking dangerous journeys facilitated by smugglers to get to the UK”, and therefore ‘this is consistent with the overarching policy objectives of the Plan to deter illegal entry into the UK”
Also in this assessment the Home Office has identified many ways in which it can increase ‘equality of opportunity’ for people seeking asylum or entering the UK.
The Plan’s proposed ‘differential treatment of refugees’ could improve equality of opportunity for young men, particularly those travelling from Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria and Afghanistan.
The differential treatment relates to the proposal to create a tiered asylum system, where those arriving in the UK via small boats or lorries will only be offered temporary immigration status, with abridged rights and benefits, and also face the possibility of removal.
When assessing equality of opportunity for young men leaving their home countries, the Home Office states that its Plan will deter this group from making riskier journeys and instead to seek asylum in the first ‘safe country’ they can reach. This, the Home Office claims, is an ‘opportunity to advance equality of opportunity for males in terms of enabling them to not put themselves at risk’.
The Home Office, however, has already admitted in its assessment that the evidence of the deterrence approach is limited and could lead to these same people taking more risks to enter the UK.
The tiered approach has been heavily criticised by international agencies, including the UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, as being ‘discriminatory’. The UNHCR warned that the Plan risks ‘breaching international legal commitments, undermining global refugee cooperation and triggering damaging effects on asylum seekers who arrive irregularly’.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “All attempts to enter the UK illegally carry significant risks. People should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach, that is the fastest way to safety. We do not want to see people risk their lives using unsafe routes, and this is why we are taking steps to ensure dangerous journeys are not incentivised and taking action to target the people smugglers behind them. Our New Plan for Immigration builds on ongoing work to crack down on illegal migration, remove those with no right to be in the UK, whilst providing support and protection to those in genuine need”.
The Home Office went on to say that the Government continues to comply with all relevant duties, including the Public Sector Equality Duty, and that the assessment makes it clear that so long as appropriate steps are taken, there will be no unlawful discrimination. It also mentioned the new Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme is an ‘excellent example of the kind of agile, flexible approach to resettlement we are now delivering.