Tougher restrictions on entry to the UK are denying protection to those who need it most and, contrary to the government’s claim today, are unlikely to be a sustainable method of reducing numbers of asylum applications in the long run.
Building further barriers to the UK, and penalising those who enter clandestinely, threatens to punish those who most need our protection. Visa restrictions such as those introduced for Zimbabweans act as a barrier to all who wish to come here, regardless of their asylum needs.
The majority of those who apply for asylum have always been from countries with well documented human rights abuses. The figures published by the Home Office today show that the main countries of origin are Somalia, Zimbabwe and China, all countries with poor human rights records. Since the number of applicants has fallen, the UK may well be preventing those who need safety from being able to access it, undermining its commitment to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention.
Visa restrictions and increasingly severe border controls are the most probable cause for the fall in numbers of asylum applications. Domestic measures introduced in last year’s Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act, with the aim of acting as a deterrent, are unlikely to have had more than a minimal impact. This includes Section 55 of the Act that denies support to applicants who do not apply at port of entry.
Today’s figures show there has been no change in the proportion of applicants who apply in country as opposed to at port. In fact, over two thirds of asylum seekers still apply after they arrive in the UK. Denying so many destitute people support in this way is simply increasing hardship and risks breaching asylum seekers’ human rights.
The only way of guaranteeing a long-term reduction in numbers is by addressing the reasons that cause people to flee their homes in the first place.
Maeve Sherlock, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council said:
“An emphasis on numbers in recent months has caused the debate on asylum to lose sight of the root causes of why people are forced to flee their homes. Simply preventing people from entering the UK cannot be referred to as a success when some of those people may be in desperate need of our help.
“Forcing asylum seekers who do manage to get here into homelessness and destitution has a negligible effect on numbers and is frankly inhumane. If the government wishes to see a long term, sustainable reduction in numbers it must take into account and address the root causes of forced migration and accept that driving asylum seekers out on to the streets helps no-one”.
It is also of great concern that the number of successful appeals has risen over the 2nd quarter, as it means the quality of initial decision-making is deteriorating. Unless the standard of initial decisions is improved, the government will struggle to meet its aim of speeding up the asylum process.
Maeve Sherlock added:
“Once here, asylum seekers should be treated with dignity while their claim is being processed and should be entitled to a fair hearing. The number of appeals will naturally decrease if initial decisions are of a high standard.
“Public confidence in the asylum system will only be gained once people are assured that the right decisions are being made at the earliest opportunity. Limiting the appeals process will remove vital safeguards if the standard of initial decisions remains this low.”
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The Home Office today published the asylum statistics for the second quarter of 2003 at its website.