Priti Patel defends asylum overhaul amid ‘inhumane’ claims

Sam Blewett and Flora Thompson, PA
·5-min read

Home Secretary Priti Patel has defended her overhaul of asylum seeker rules from allegations they are “inhumane” as she confirmed the UK will look at sending migrants overseas for processing.

Billed by the Government as “the biggest overhaul of the UK’s asylum system in decades”, Ms Patel will on Wednesday detail a new plan on how to deal with people entering the UK “illegally”.

They will no longer have the same entitlements as those who arrive legally under the Home Office plans, leading charities including the British Red Cross to criticise the changes for judging claimants on how they arrived and not just on merit.

The charity said it will create an “unfair two-tiered system” for asylum ahead of Ms Patel setting out the full details of the reforms, with her due to speak in the Commons on Wednesday afternoon.

The Home Secretary defended the plans as necessary to deal with the “terrible trade” of people smuggling and to fix the “broken” asylum system.

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She confirmed deals could be sought for foreign nations to process asylum claimants, saying the Government will “consider all options”.

“As part of this consultation we will put all options on the table in terms of working with third countries, and countries like Denmark already exploring options like this, and we will continue to explore bilaterally options in terms of returning and removing people that have come to the United Kingdom illegally,” she told Sky News.

It was understood that Ms Patel will not detail the nations she wishes to strike deals with for asylum processing centres on Wednesday, but Gibraltar firmly rejected it could house a site after a suggestion last week as did the Isle of Man.

The Home Office argued that “fairness” and a genuine need for refuge are at the heart of the new proposals, as well as including measures to tackle people smugglers and “remove more easily from the UK those with no right to be there”.

And the department said that “for the first time” whether “people enter the UK legally or illegally will have an impact on how their asylum claim progresses, and on their status in the UK if that claim is successful”.

But British Red Cross chief executive Mike Adamson said: “We should not judge how worthy someone is of asylum by how they arrived here.

“The proposals effectively create an unfair two-tiered system, whereby someone’s case and the support they receive is judged on how they entered the country and not on their need for protection. This is inhumane.”

Ms Patel insisted she would work with the Red Cross and other organisations to create “safe and legal routes”.

“What is inhumane is allowing people to be smuggled through illegal migration and that is what we want to stop,” she told BBC Breakfast.

“We will create safe and legal routes to enable people to come to the United Kingdom in a safe way so that they can also be resettled in the United Kingdom and that is a fundamental change we want to bring in.”

Last year about 8,500 people arrived in the UK by crossing the Channel in small boats and the majority claimed asylum, the Home Office said. Around 800 are estimated to have made the crossing so far this year.

Access to benefits and family reunion rights could be limited while the appeals and judicial process will be reformed to “speed up” removals for those whose claims are refused.

The measures, anticipated to be brought forward as part of a Sovereign Borders Bill, will also make it “much harder for people to be granted refugee status based on unsubstantiated claims” and include “rigorous age assessments” to stop adult migrants pretending to be children.

Tougher laws will be introduced to “withhold protection and remove dangerous criminals, even when they improperly claim to be victims of modern slavery”, the Home Office said.

Life sentences will be brought in for people smugglers, harsher offences will be imposed on people trying to enter the country illegally and foreign criminals who breach deportation orders and return to the UK could be jailed for up to five years instead of the current six months.

A new “one-stop” legal process is also proposed, so asylum, human rights claims and any other protection matters are all made and considered together ahead of appeal hearings.

Labour shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said he feared the changes would not curtail the number of people making “dangerous crossings” to reach Britain.

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor)

“Measures are clearly needed to speed up processes and stop criminal gangs profiting from dangerous crossings,” he said.

“However, we fear these plans will do next to nothing to stop people making dangerous crossings, and risk withdrawing support from desperate people, such as victims of human trafficking.”

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, accused the Government of “seeking to unjustly differentiate between the deserving and undeserving refugee by choosing to provide protection for those fleeing war and terror based on how they travel to the UK” and claimed the plans could undermine the country’s traditions of providing protection for people “regardless of how they have managed to find their way to our shores”.

Kolbassia Haoussou, of Freedom from Torture, warned the proposals could see most of the people the charity helps become “criminalised”, adding: “These unreal proposals make it clear that this Government isn’t serious about improving lives and creating a fair asylum system.”