The Government is to impose tough controls on travel documents issued to people with Exceptional Leave to Remain (ELR) in the UK. From 27 March this year, such people will need to demonstrate that they have an urgent need to travel and that they cannot obtain a passport from their own embassy.
Currently, people who are granted ELR can apply for a ‘Certificate of Identity’ document to enable them to travel to any country but that of their origin, just as refugees can apply for a ‘refugee passport’ . The problem is not that the documents are being ‘abused’ – the government has the flimsiest of evidence for this – but that other EU countries do not recognise the Certificate of Identity.
Commenting on the new policy, Gemma Smith, International Protection Officer at the Refugee Council, said: “Denying travel documents will cause hardship and distress to extremely vulnerable people, who will be unable to meet up with friends and family from whom they have been separated in the chaos of flight from their countries. The Government needs to work with other EU members to ensure that they recognise UK travel documents, just as we recognise theirs.”
EU Justice and Home Affairs ministers are meeting today and tomorrow; one of the areas of discussion will be the EU Definition directive, which includes provision for issuing travel documents to people with ELR. “This is where ministers should be addressing the issue, instead of implementing punative unilateral measures”, said Gemma Smith.
The Government alleges that access to travel documents acts as a ‘pull factor’. However recent research commissioned by the Home Office demonstrates that asylum seekers know very little about the asylum system before they reach the UK.
ELR is granted to people who are not recognised as refugees, but who qualify for asylum for other reasons, such as risk of being tortured if returned to their country of origin.
Read the Refugee Council’s response to the Home Office Consultation on changes to the Policy of Issuing of Certificates of Identity, February 2003