Asylum system overhaul will ‘punish’ people seeking safety, refugees say

Megan Baynes, PA
·4-min read

The overhaul of the UK’s asylum system will “punish” people seeking safety and put more lives at risk, refugees living in the country have said.

On Wednesday, the Home Secretary announced “the most significant overhaul of our asylum system in decades” and people who arrive in the UK illegally will no longer have the same entitlements as those who arrive legally under the Home Office plans.

Last year about 8,500 people arrived in the UK by crossing the English Channel in small boats and the majority claimed asylum, the Home Office said.

Kolbassia Haoussou, an MBE and refugee, would have been immediately deported from the UK under the new rules, having arrived in the UK across the Channel “illegally” in 2005. He was escaping torture and persecution in West Africa after refusing to support the government in power.

Mr Haoussou, who almost drowned on the crossing, told the PA news agency: “It makes it clear that this Government isn’t serious about creating a fair asylum system, but about making it hostile for people.

“In a refugee camp, you can have that legal process. But in my case, when I was fleeing torture, in that moment of persecution, I didn’t think anything other than just ‘flee’. Because any delay I create, I am putting my life in danger, so I just have to go.

“I definitely think that if you want to help people, and make sure they don’t take the dangerous route, make it safe and make it easier for people to cross.

“If you make it more difficult for them, they are going to find another way. People are not going to stop because when you have fire on your back, you just need to move forward.”

He said the new system would create a two-tier system of “deserving”, adding: “Who can tell me that I didn’t deserve protection when I was being tortured?

Kolbassia Haoussou with Angelina Jolie at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in 2014 (Freedom From Torture/PA)
Kolbassia Haoussou with Angelina Jolie at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in 2014 (Freedom From Torture/PA)

“Who can tell me I didn’t deserve a chance to start my life when I was walking miles barefoot to get somewhere I think that I’m going to be safe, that I can have a chance to live my life again?”

Mohamad Alo arrived in the UK from Syria with his wife and three children in 2011.

He told PA he did not have time to consider legal routes to the UK but fled after fearing for his life and those of his family: “I didn’t even have time to return to my own house, but went straight to the airport.”

Mr Alo, who works as a lawyer, said refugees just want the chance to be “active members of society”.

David, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, arrived in the UK on a friend’s passport. He fled his home country after being tortured for joining an opposition party when Joseph Kabila was in power.

David, 35, told PA the new system, which will judge people based on how they arrive in the UK rather than what they are fleeing from, is “unfair”.

“People are suffering,” he said. “And if you see someone suffering, why would you not want to help them?

“As long as there is no peace in Africa, people will continue to try and find ways into the UK.”

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Nazek Ramadan, director of Migrant Voice, said: “The proposals create a two-tier system that punishes those who manage to find their own route to safety and condemns them to a life in limbo with restricted rights.

“People fleeing persecution and death have the right to seek sanctuary. That is the starting point, and no policy should undermine it. We are dealing here with human beings, they cannot be treated like commodities.

“The Government’s rhetoric about people smugglers is a diversion. Smugglers are irrelevant in this equation, they are the product of current policies, opportunistically filling a gap in the market. Legal routes would put them out of business immediately.”