A government consultation on the fundamental changes to refugee policy has been branded a ‘sham’ by almost 200 organisations.
192 refugee, human rights, legal and faith groups have signed a public statement condemning the six week consultation on government’s New Plan for Immigration as ‘vague, unworkable, cruel and potentially unlawful’.
The Home Office states that the consultation, which ends on the 6th May, is about plans to make the asylum and immigration system fairer and more efficient, to deter illegal entry and to enable the government to more easily remove people they say have no right to be in the UK.
Signatories include Refugee Action, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, Asylum Matters, the Scottish Refugee Council, Detention Action and Freedom from Torture. They have raised concerns regarding the sweeping changes planned by the home secretary Priti Patel, including deporting people to third countries, holding refugees in warehouse-style ‘reception centres’ and forcing people to reapply for protection every 30 months.
The signatories say the consultation is poorly designed, confusing and inaccessible and adds that it gives organisations fewer than six working weeks to respond to a process for which three months or more is usual. There are no questions in the consultation which ask people about their personal experiences of fleeing persecution or seeking safety in the UK.
The consultation is only available in English and Welsh and most easily accessible online, factors that could further exclude refugees from responding.
One academic who submitted a freedom of information request to the Home Office for a document which provides the evidential basis for the Home Office’s New Plan For Immigration which the Home Secretary herself describes as ‘the most significant overhaul of our asylum system in decades’ had her request turned down. She said she has reliable information the document exists.
Officials said they were not prepared to confirm whether or not it did exist but that if it did should not be disclosed because: “Ministers need safe space in which to discuss important policy matters, consider all options and weigh up the risks of particular proposals without the prospect of their ideas being held up to criticism in the public domain”.
Chief executive at Refugee Action, Tim Naor Hilton, said: “This consultation is an attempt to gift wrap the ugliest attack on the asylum system in a generation. The government must scrap its proposed changes to refugee policy and work properly with stakeholders in order to create a system which is fair, effective and compassionate”.
Legal policy director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, Chai Patel said: “The government is proposing radical and dangerous changes to the UK’s refugee protection system, which need serious consideration. The consultation is a sham intended to mislead parliament into believing there is merit to plans which will deny safety to people fleeing war and persecution”.
Chris Philp, Home Office minister said: “With each day that passes, more vulnerable people are falling prey to organised crime gangs and risk dying in the back of lorries and at sea. We have a responsibility to put the new plan for immigration into action so that we can fix the broken asylum system, helping people based on need, not the ability to pay people smugglers”.
“The consultation has been open for over a month and thousands of stakeholders as well as members of the public have shared their views. We will consider all responses carefully before bringing forward legislation”.
He added that the Home Office intends to speak directly to refugees and asylum seekers as part of the consultation process.