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

Five-year strategy


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.


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

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


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