Priti Patel to leave migrants ‘in limbo’ by scrapping six-month deadline for asylum decisions

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A migrant carries her children after being helped ashore from a RNLI lifeboat in Dungeness - Ben Stansall/AFP
A migrant carries her children after being helped ashore from a RNLI lifeboat in Dungeness - Ben Stansall/AFP

Asylum seekers could face longer in migration limbo as Priti Patel has refused to set a time limit for responding to their applications in her new border crackdown.

The Home Secretary has laid an amendment to her Nationalities and Borders Bill which means the Home Office will not be tied to a six-month limit after which it has to consider a newly arrived migrant’s asylum claim.

Immigration officials have been struggling to remove migrants within the six-month period even when they have come to the UK from a “safe” country like France or Belgium, where they should already have claimed asylum.

‘Not tying our hands’

Despite 2,851 Channel migrants being initially flagged as inadmissible for asylum because they came from France or Belgium, none have been removed in the nine months from January to September and only four have been judged inadmissible due to lack of evidence.

A government source said: “The amendment means the six months is not explicitly specified in law which means it gives the Government greater flexibility to change the six months. We are not tying our hands behind our back by putting six months into law.”

Refugee groups claimed it would leave migrants in a “perpetual state of limbo”, while immigration campaigners said it was a necessary move given the difficulty of returning migrants to “safe” third countries.

The six-month rule, which was introduced through secondary regulations after Brexit, barred people who have travelled through “safe” countries from immediately claiming asylum.

The rules give Home Office immigration officials six months to uncover their routes and prove their claims were invalid. It also put the asylum claims on hold.

However, the UK has yet to agree returns deals with EU countries including France, Belgium and Germany, which has prevented any Channel migrants being removed from the UK even though their applications were initially flagged as inadmissible.

‘The public were sold a pup’

It is thought efforts to prove they should have claimed asylum in EU countries has been hampered by lack of access to fingerprint and other EU databases.

If the Government had set even a “reasonable time limit” in law, it would only have been able to change it by introducing a new Act of Parliament. Because the time limit is in secondary regulations, it is more easily amended.

Alp Mehmet, Chair of Migration Watch UK, said: “The absence of returns of those who have come here illegally from safe countries since the start of the year – not that there were many before – underlines the Government’s failure to regain the control of our borders that they promised.

“Dover has become the gateway to the UK for illegal entrants. On immigration control, the public were clearly sold a pup.”

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “The Government is intent on leaving people living in a state of perpetual limbo in a no man’s land where their right to apply for refugee protection in the UK is cruelly taken away from them.

“Most of the men, women and children crossing the channel, including those who have escaped the Taliban, are fleeing persecution and oppression. For generations, Prime Ministers since Churchill have given people like them the right to a fair hearing on UK soil regardless of how they reach our shores.”

As the Bill came back to the Commons on Tuesday, Ms Patel wrote to Labour’s home affairs spokesman Yvette Cooper accusing her of failing to put the views of the British people first.

“Voting for the Nationality and Borders Bill is standing against the people smuggling gangs, introducing tough life sentences and speeding up the removal of those with no right to be in our country, including foreign national offenders,” said Ms Patel.

“Labour must choose between supporting our plan to reduce illegal migration and putting the British people’s concerns first or continuing to back open borders and allowing lethal small boat crossings to continue.”

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