We are deeply disappointed by the passing of the UK government’s Illegal Migration Bill, which aims to punish people for seeking asylum here. We believe it is wrong to lock up people who are trying to find safety (including children), to ignore the needs of trafficking victims, and to undermine the whole system of refugee protection. What happens next is highly uncertain, but we do know it will cause further misery for vulnerable people, putting them in legal limbo and precarious situations. In the meantime it is worth remembering a few things.
Firstly, there are virtually no safe, legal routes to claim asylum in the UK. Therefore, the majority of the thousands of people we have supported in Suffolk over the last two decades were forced to arrive through irregular means. Today they are British citizens, doctors, carers, community leaders, and our friends and colleagues.
Secondly, the asylum seekers we work with are fleeing conflict, persecution and repression in Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Eritrea, Iraq and Sudan. The vast majority should ultimately be granted asylum because they have a genuine need for our protection. Overall, around two thirds of those who arrived in small boats last year will ultimately be recognised as refugees.
Thirdly, the use of hotels to accommodate asylum seekers is largely due to the Home Office’s failure to process asylum claims rather than the rise in the number of people arriving.
Finally, despite all the coverage of small boat crossings, most refugees stay in countries neighbouring their own, and other European countries receive far more asylum seekers than the UK – Germany three times as many in 2022 and France around twice as many. Even Austria had more asylum applications than the UK last year. A tiny fraction of the world’s refugees attempt to make it to the UK, usually for language or family reasons.
As for the bill itself, it seems the ‘Illegal Migration Bill’ might be…well, illegal, with the Home Secretary admitting there is a higher than 50% chance the bill itself is unlawful. It is also lacking in detail and appears to be unworkable. Where are the places to detain tens of thousands of people? Where will the Home Office remove people to when the only agreement is with Rwanda for limited numbers (and which is still subject to legal challenge)? And if the government think that their harsh rhetoric will act as a deterrent, they are utterly failing to understand what drives people seeking a place to live in safety and peace.
But more importantly, this legislation is immoral and would mean the UK failing to play any responsible part in a complex international issue. The asylum seekers we work with who arrived by small boat are Syrians escaping a brutal decade-long conflict, Afghans who worked with UK forces (and who were promised help), Eritreans fleeing one of the most repressive regimes on earth, Sudanese forced from their homes by a surge in violence, and Iranians who fought for basic rights and freedoms.
The people of Suffolk have shown, through their outpouring of support for Afghan refugees, their generosity towards Ukrainians fleeing war, and their recent demonstration of solidarity and welcome to asylum seekers in Ipswich, that they have compassion and empathy for people seeking sanctuary here. We will continue to work with asylum seekers and refugees in Suffolk, no matter where they are from or how they arrived, and to call for a fairer, more humane asylum system for all who need it.