The Government’s New Plan for Immigration, which is currently open for consultation, is confusing in its purpose, its process and its potential impact.

The Home Office says in its proposals that it wants an asylum system that helps the most vulnerable and is not openly gamed by economic migrants or exploited by people smugglers”. However, this demonstrates a misunderstanding of the issues they are trying to resolve and the principles upon which the system is built. 

The sensible proposals in the plan, including some around supporting victims of modern slavery, are undermined by two fundamental flaws to the approach. First, the proposals would create a two-tier system based on how someone entered the UK, regardless of the complex experiences of people seeking asylum. Second, some of the proposed changes will promote unfairness; they do not treat people with dignity and would make conditions worse for some of the most vulnerable people in the world. The plan fails to suggest meaningful changes for those within the asylum and immigration system.

The Evangelical Alliance will be responding in detail to the Government’s plan, with two core concerns at the heart of our objections: first, the system creates a two-tier system of applicants based on how people arrive; and second, it fails to deal with people in a humane and dignified manner. 


Basing claims on mode of arrival

The UN Refugee Convention states that it is unjust to penalise people on the basis of their mode of arrival. People who travel by irregular routes are often forced into these situations due to impending danger. These proposals, therefore, would discriminate against the most vulnerable. While it is important to punish those who put people’s lives in danger, it is unlikely to deter people smugglers, as they rarely enter the UK. The punishment would likely fall on people steering the boats, who are not culpable. This proposal is unlikely to make any meaningful difference in the prevention criminality; instead, vulnerable people would be penalised for something they had no choice in. 

The plan would create a two-tier system that creates a false perception of good’ and bad’ refugees. This false perception leads to differential treatment of people within the system and result in the most vulnerable being subject to discrimination. It completely dismisses people who have travelled by irregular routes as they become unable to apply for full refugee status and would have no route to permanent leave to remain. Temporary protection status would leave many people in a perpetual state of instability, even if they qualify to be protected by the UK asylum system. 

A humane and dignified asylum system

The asylum system is difficult to navigate as people seeking asylum have not only uprooted their lives but are thrust into a foreign legal system. Forty-one per cent of claims that are initially rejected are approved on appeal, so there is a case for better legal support, training and translation. The backlog of cases is not due to a high number of people seeking asylum, which is three times lower than the number of applications in the early 2000s. While the Government proposes to streamline the process, it doesn’t recognise why multiple claims are being made, which ranges from people not knowing what evidence to present to women being too traumatised to retell stories of abuse. Requiring applicants to disclose all information for their case at the first point of inquiry is unrealistic for people often suffering trauma and those who are suspicious of state authorities. 

People seeking asylum are not allowed to work in the first year they arrive, even though this would be beneficial to the Government. Allowing people seeking asylum to work would help them support themselves and contribute to UK society. There have been many calls to lower the waiting time to six months. Currently, people seeking asylum are only entitled to claim Section 95 support, and then only if they can demonstrate that they are, or will become, destitute. This amounts to £5.66 a day, which is a little over half of the minimum welfare benefit for a UK national. The combination of these laws means that someone seeking asylum can do very little to improve their situation. 

Recent reports on the Napier and Penally Barracks have demonstrated a failure to provide adequate accommodation for people seeking asylum. Areas have been described as filthy and overcrowded. There are significant mental health problems across these facilities and limited privacy, creating opportunities for the vulnerable to be exploited. The plan has a greater focus on making it easier to remove people from reception centres than to provide dignified conditions for people whilst they are in the UK

The Government is keen to champion resettlement schemes that involve community sponsorship. Churches have been key players in these schemes and have welcomed refugees and people seeking asylum across the UK; however, the number of churches involved remains very small. Every person seeking asylum should be treated with respect whilst they are in the UK. Instead, too often they are subject to poor accommodation, constant uncertainty and an atmosphere of contempt. We have a call to welcome the stranger and urge our government to create a system that does this in a meaningful way.