Special report on the government’s five-year asylum plan

    Five-year strategy

     
    Clarke

    The government’s five-year strategy for tackling asylum
    launched by Charles Clarke this week proved to be the latest in a
    string of punitive measures designed to make Britain
    “unattractive” to would-be refugees, but which could
    place these vulnerable people at risk, writes Anabel
    Unity Sale
    .

    The Home Office strategy for asylum and immigration includes
    plans to remove and detain more asylum seekers than it currently
    does. By the end of the year, the government has pledged that more
    failed asylum seekers will be removed than there are unsuccessful
    applicants; and within the next four years it will expand the
    detention estate with 300 new places.

    Making the announcement the home secretary said the government
    planned to “crack down” on those who seek to exploit
    the system. He added: “People who are genuinely fleeing
    persecution will be able to find a safe haven in this country but
    we will be tough on those trying to exploit the system.”

    The strategy’s key measures include:

    • Granting refugees temporary leave rather than permanent
    status while the government reviews whether the situation in the
    country has improved. It if has not got better after five years the
    refugee will be granted permanent status otherwise they will be
    expected to return to their country of origin.

    • Expansion of the detention estate with 300 new places
    created by 2007.

    • Fast-tracking and closer management of asylum claims. The
    government will introduce tighter controls throughout the asylum
    process to assist removal. This includes using electronic tagging
    and voice recognition technology.

    • Further action on removals. By the end of 2005 more failed
    asylum seekers will be deported than there are unsuccessful
    applications. The government will work with source countries to
    secure more returns by putting immigration at the centre of its
    work with them.

    Uncertainty

     
    Andrew Cozens

    Andrew Cozens, immediate past president of the Association of
    Director of Social Services (ADSS) and director of social services
    at Leicester Council, said any tightening of the asylum rules has a
    direct, and indirect, impact of the work social services
    departments do. He said: “While we recognise public disquiet
    on this issue we believe tightening up the rules on a blanket basis
    does add to the hardship of individuals, who may have suffered
    already in their home country.”

    He added that if an asylum seeker was allowed to stay in the UK
    temporarily before a final decision is made, it would generate
    great uncertainty, particularly in relation to children’s
    education.

    Chief executive of the Refugee Council Maeve Sherlock reiterated
    this point and said the charity would be very concerned if a person
    accepted as a refugee had to live through “five years of
    uncertainty” until the government confirms they can remain
    here permanently.

    She added: “It seems particularly unfair on refugees who
    may have lost their whole families or suffered torture, or at
    worst, ethnic cleansing.” When countries do become safer,
    Sherlock says, fewer asylum seekers leave them and many refugees
    choose to return home voluntarily.

    Human rights

    Any reviews of refugees’ leave to remain should be done on a
    case-by-case basis and with the full involvement of international
    monitoring agencies, argued Refugee Action chief executive Sandy
    Buchan. He said this is necessary to ensure that assessments of the
    human rights situation in the relevant country are accurate and
    up-to-date and the individual’s circumstances are taken into
    account. “The consequences of removing asylum seekers to
    their country of origin without these safeguards are potentially
    very severe indeed.”

    Expanding the number of asylum seekers detained by the
    government is something campaigners Bail for Immigration Detainees
    (BID) is firmly against. BID policy officer Sarah Cutler said this
    is especially true if this includes children. “We are opposed
    to the use of detention for families as children do not do well in
    detention centres.” She adds that the main problem is
    children in detention do not have automatic access to someone
    looking after their case, which any other child would have.

    The harshest criticism of the government’s plans comes,
    understandably, from Amnesty International UK’s refugee
    programme director Jan Shaw. She argued that detaining asylum
    seekers “guilty of no crime” should only ever be as a
    last resort and the government’s “obsession with being
    ‘tough’ on asylum seekers” must not mean they are
    returned to dangerous situations.

    She concluded: “If terrified refugees are returned to
    their persecutors, just to satisfy domestic political pressure, it
    will be a sorry day for human rights and a sorry day for the
    UK.”

     

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