The Brexit white paper released last week finally reveals our new partnership plans with the EU come March next year. However, there are some fundamental changes being made that implicate asylum seekers and refugees coming to the UK.
In just 2018 alone, as many as 155 migrant families were separated from their children in the UK according to the charity Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID). BID also found that many parents were deported from the UK yet were forced to leave their children behind in authoritative UK care. However, the new policy outlined in the white paper promises that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children can now be reunited with their families in the UK, which is a huge success for campaigners.
The UK government is seemingly climbing down from its “hostile environment” towards immigration. The changes could be triggered by a surge in support from the British public: the Aurora Humanitarian Index study found that 52% of the UK population believe refugees need more support and that the government should be doing more to help. A huge 47% of Britons believe refugees ought to be able to apply for British Citizenship.
The refugee crisis that dominated tabloids in 2015 is painted very differently in our current headlines: British universities now offer scholarships and fee waivers for refugees and asylum seekers, Virgin Atlantic airlines are defying the law by refusing to deport people since the Windrush fiasco, and British schools are no longer required to pass notes on their students’ nationality to the Home Office (nor the police).
However, United’s release of the traumatising 56-page list for Refugee Week last month details the 34,361 documented migrants who have died “due to the restrictive policies of Fortress Europe”. The most common causes of death detailed on the list are drowning, hyperthermia and exhaustion. Yet the large number of deaths that occurred in the UK or painstakingly close to British land really hits home: people die while waiting to hear from the Home Office in detention centres, either from a lack of medical care or by suicide.
Thirty leading refugee and faith groups wrote to the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid earlier this week. The open letter highlighted Home Office injustices by detailing cases in which asylum seekers are interrogated and treated with suspicion and scepticism from the get-go. It is not uncommon for a refugee’s statement to get lost in translation either. Yet such simple errors have catastrophic outcomes as refugees can wait as long as 52 weeks for a response to appeal.
The injustices refugees have been faced with when on British soil have caused the law reform and human rights organisation –JUSTICE – to release a new report. Its mission is to relieve First-Tier Tribunal strain by creating a streamlined review and appeal system. According to the Law Society Gazette, the JUSTICE report pushed for investigations into ‘unqualified’ practitioners that are providing ‘incompetent, dishonest and poor-quality service’ to claimants and appellants. They hope to improve initial decision-making that will reduce unnecessary appeals and lengthy delays for those waiting in detention centres.
The UK’s immigration detention centres boast the largest in Europe: at any given time as many as 2,000 to 3,500 migrants can be detained. New regulations mean qualifying ‘vulnerable’ and ‘at risk’ asylum seekers will no longer have to endure the horrors of detention. Those who suffer from a medical condition or who have expressed severe trauma such as trafficking, torture or sexual violence are now exempt (from 2 July). However, the UK still remains as the only European country that can hold detainees indefinitely.
The new white paper offers no further relief for refugees. It promises to crack down on Europe’s external border as well as make “interventions at every stage of the migrant journey” in order to “ensure no new incentives are created to make dangerous journeys to Europe”. This wishy-washy statement holds some heavy contradictions. Asylum seekers fleeing persecution and war from their home country will now face additional challenges – if they didn’t already face impossible ones before.
Irrespective of the changes, the path refugees take to come and integrate into the UK is no yellow brick road. Just acquiring Refugee Status or Humanitarian Protection in the UK is hard enough, but even after their ‘refugee card’ has expired after five years, migrants struggle to maintain a permanent hold in the UK. The Safe Returns Review mean refugees live in a constant state of anxiety: they could be deported if the Home Office sees fit at any time – even if they technically qualify for British Citizenship having lived in the UK for ten years.
For those fortunate enough to avoid detention, the UK falls short of an adequate refuge. Many wait 36 days on average to receive financial aid, according to Refugee Action, meaning asylum seekers live in destitute limbo. Unable to work or rent a flat in accordance with immigration law, refugees are provided with temporary accommodation and between £5-6 per day to live. Pregnant women and young children get an extra 42p a day. Many are eager to work yet doing so would jeopardise their pending refugee status.
Families are left completely destitute and traumatised in a foreign country for an excruciating amount of time. The Justice report looks promising when tackling this issue: by weeding out the inept and axing the backlog of cases, those who are entitled to stay in the UK will be able to do so as fast as possible. Yet while British organisations – and the public – are starting to warm to refugees, the Home Office are offering little reassurance to the future of immigration in the UK. Children might now be reunited with their parents, but the Brexit white paper lacks clarity on its humanity when dealing with asylum seekers as a whole.
Olivia Bridge is a specialist content writer and political correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service