As compassionate people, we should be focused on safe routes and a warm welcome for refugees NOT criminalisation and cruelty.
Tragically, many women, men and children lost their lives crossing the Channel last year. Yet the Government has failed to provide safe alternatives and continues to erode the limited safe routes that already exist. For the vast majority of refugees, there is no safe way for them to seek asylum in the UK.
What are the safe routes for refugees and their families to get to the UK?
Sometimes safe routes for refugees are referred to as ‘safe and legal routes’ or ‘official routes’. We refer to them as safe routes, as the alternative is to travel in an irregular manner to claim asylum in the UK, while this can be dangerous, claiming asylum is not illegal.
There are three main safe routes to the UK for refugees and their families:
Refugee Family Reunion provides a safe way for family members to join someone who has already been granted refugee status in the UK. The Government’s Nationality and Borders Bill will all but destroy this vital route out of conflict for women and children. Over the last five years as many as 29,000 people have been able to come to the UK safely under refugee family reunion, over 90% of whom were women and children. New rules for asylum will severely restrict refugee family reunion.
Refugee resettlement is the transfer of refugees from an initial country of asylum. Resettlement to the UK nearly ground to a halt during the height of the Covid pandemic in 2020. A new resettlement scheme introduced in 2021 has no targets attached. Furthermore, a scheme announced in August 2021 specifically for Afghans didn’t launch until January 2022, and then only for those already evacuated to the UK. We are calling for a commitment to the resettlement of 10,000 refugees a year.
3. Humanitarian visas
We need a humanitarian visa system to allow people to apply for visas to enter the UK for the purposes of claiming asylum. People can only claim asylum in the UK when they are physically here, which is why people are crossing the Channel to reach the UK. It doesn’t have to be this way – humanitarian visas would enable people in need of protection to travel to the UK in a safe manner.
If the Government is serious about saving lives and tackling smuggling gangs, it must invest in expanding safe routes for refugees to get to the UK.
Why are we calling for more safe routes?
The Government claims that its New Plan for Immigration will help those in genuine need through safe routes while stopping those who abuse the system. However, Clause 11 of the Nationality and Borders Bill will remove family reunion rights for thousands of people recognised as refugees each year, leaving their family members with no safe way to get to the UK. This Anti-Refugee Bill contains no provision for protecting existing, or increasing, safe routes.
A person must be physically in the UK to claim asylum. Without safe options such as resettlement, family reunion and humanitarian visas, those fleeing conflict and persecution may take the desperate measure of crossing the Channel, putting their life at risk. Far too many people lost their lives attempting to reach safety last year. If the Government is serious about saving lives it will make a commitment to providing safe alternatives.