New UK asylum laws could affect Afghan refugees

Following the government’s announcement regarding ‘one of the most generous’ resettlement schemes in British history, many refugee charities are concerned as to how this scheme can work especially following the proposed changes to the UK’s asylum system which is designed to criminalise any refugees who travel to the UK independently by boat or lorry.

The announcement has been welcomed by the United Nations high commissioner for refugees as the scheme proposed to resettle 5,000 people from Afghanistan during this year and 20,000 in the longer term.  Colleagues have stressed that the demand for resettlement schemes falls short of allocated places, and has said that the government must not punish Afghan refugees who manage to make their own way to the UK to claim asylum.

HNHCR spokeserson Laura Padoan said: “The chaos of conflict is clearly seen from the images from Afghanistan, people do not have a choice but to cross borders without the correct documentation or without visas and they must not be punished for that”.

“The UK must preserve the right to asylum for Afghans and others who arrive in the UK spontaneously, a right which is under threat from the proposed nationality and borders bill. It is unbelievable that Afghans facing danger and in need of protection and are then to be punished for making there own way to the UK”.

The government plans to make it a criminal offence to arrive in the UK without entry clearance, introducing tough sentences for those who are found doing so and also for people-smugglers.  Once these changes are introduced, how someone enters the UK will affect the progress of their asylum claim and also their status in the UK, if their bid is successful.

Many campaigners hope that the scenes of desperation in Kabul this week will make politicians less willing to introduce a toughened asylum regime.

Immigration lawyer and author of ‘Welcome to Britain: Fixing Our Broken Immigration System, Colin Yeo, said: “It will be retrograde to move from an internationally agreed system based on the refugee convention, where refugees have some agency and choice regarding where they can go, to one where countries just hand pick a small number of refugees for resettlement and then throw the rest in prison if they arrive by irregular means.  Perhaps some MPs may be more aware that penalising refugees for the means of their arrival is not a sensible way forward”.

Chair of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, Satbir Singh, agreed and added: “The scenes which everyone has seen at Kabul airport show what it is to flee from an emergency.  So when politicians say: “You should have travelled here legally” or “You should have stopped in the first safe country you got to” they will need to match that against the reality of men and women dropping from planes as they are taking off.  That is how desperate people are. they do not have the luxury of waiting around for official papers”.

Priti Patel, Home Secretary, indicated that she saw no contradiction between the announcement by Dominic Raab of a ‘big-hearted’ approach, and the proposed new asylum legislation, arguing that the resettlement scheme would give priority to women and girls, and others most vulnerable to dehumanising treatment by the Taliban.  She went on to say that those who travelled to the UK on small boats ‘tend to be predominantly single men’.

Campaigners feel it is important not to have such a restricted definition of vulnerability.  “We should not overlook the fact that young boys may need to seek refuge because they are at the first risk of being conscripted and turned into child soldiers”.

Refugee and migrant rights director at Amnesty International UK, said it was unreasonable for Britain to close its borders to refugees forced to take unauthorised routes into the country, while expecting Iran and Pakistan to keep their borders open to allow people to flee.  “It is an appalling message to send to those countries which have been hosting very large numbers of refugees for decades”.