Safe routes for refugees plummet while dangerous Channel crossings continue - Refugee Council
January 11, 2024

Safe routes for refugees plummet while dangerous Channel crossings continue

  • Number of refugees being resettled in the UK at lowest level for over a decade 
  • Only 766 refugees resettled in the UK in the year ending September 2023 
  • Refugee family reunion visas beset with delays and restrictions  
  • Findings come as Home Office publishes report on ‘safe and legal routes’ branded “woefully inadequate” by campaigners 

A new report from the Refugee Council shows that the two main “safe routes” for refugees operated by the UK (resettlement and refugee family reunion) have declined in recent years, with a particularly stark fall in resettlement numbers, while dangerous Channel crossings have risen sharply since pre-Covid levels.   

In the year to September 2023, only 766 refugees were resettled under the Government’s global resettlement scheme, the lowest number in over a decade. Moreover, the Government isn’t even halfway to meeting a pledge it made when it set up the resettlement programme in June 2019 to resettle 5,000 refugees in the first year of the scheme. 

The report, titled Safe routes – the need for an ambitious approach, also highlights failings in the UK’s refugee family reunion regime. In particular, it points to increasing delays and a growing backlog of family reunion applications, and highlights that the Home Office’s recent efforts to reduce the legacy asylum backlog will result in further delays as more people are recognised as refugees and become eligible to be reunited with their loved ones.  

The Government has today published its own report on safe routes, which it was legally required to do within six months of the Illegal Migration Act becoming law. The Government’s report offers no new safe routes and no improvement of existing schemes. The Refugee Council’s report points out that there has been no stakeholder engagement process in relation to the Government’s proposals, apart from a short consultation at the end of 2023 giving local councils just weeks to provide a 2025 resettlement target. With no additional resources promised the global resettlement scheme will continue to decline.  

The new report from the Refugee Council calls on the UK government to increase the number of refugees resettled through safe routes and reform existing refugee family reunion policies. Specifically, it recommends establishing an ambitious multi-year commitment to increase refugee resettlement numbers and using the current scheme as a genuine global programme rather than creating new ad hoc schemes in response to crises. 

The report also recommends investing in community sponsorship, removing barriers preventing child refugees from reuniting with family members in the UK, and simplifying the rules to allow dependent adult children of refugees to join their parents. Additionally, it proposes piloting a new “refugee visa” for 10,000 refugees from countries with high asylum grant rates (Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iran, Sudan and Syria), which would enable them to travel safely to the UK to claim asylum.  

The Refugee Council argues these expansions of safe routes are needed to provide alternatives to dangerous Channel crossings and undermine the business model of people smugglers. 

Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said:  

“There urgently needs to be an ambitious plan to expand safe routes by improving resettlement and family reunion as well as piloting humanitarian visas. The government’s plans are woefully inadequate with no meaningful commitment to expand safe routes for refugees from war-torn countries such as Sudan and Syria and those fleeing repressive regimes in countries such as Iran. By simply focusing on describing the existing limited schemes, the Government has completely overlooked the urgent need to reduce dangerous Channel crossings by providing safe passage to our shores.

“If the Government is serious about ‘stopping the boats’, it must take decisive action to significantly increase safe routes for refugees, rather than pushing ahead with the unlawful, costly and ineffective Rwanda plan. 

“With no viable alternatives in place, ruthless smugglers will continue exploiting those fleeing war and persecution who seek safety and want to be reunited with their loved ones. If faced with the same dangers, any one of us would go to great lengths to protect our families and reach safety.”

Read our report: Safe routes – the need for an ambitious approach