The Home Office and the New Immigration Plan

This week the Home Secretary, Priti Patel’s, Nationality and Borders Bill was passed in the House of Commons as part of the New Plan for Immigration. This plan’s stated aim is to “fix the UK’s broken asylum system”. The plan has faced vigorous criticism from hundreds of Human Rights and Asylum Rights groups due to its many harsh measures and restrictions.

The New Plan aims to tackle multiple controversial points. The most notorious are: making illegal immigration a crime of its own, the possibility of offshore asylum seeking centres to house those who are in the asylum seeking process, and the creation of a new “fair” system which will prevent the so called playing of the system.

The criminalisation of “illegal immigration” is expected to be done in two ways, automatic life sentences for people found guilty of people trafficking and making it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK without permission to be here. Both are meant to be deterrents for those facilitating some of the horrific abuses of refugees through smuggling and trafficking whilst the other directly targets those who have been forced to flee.

The first point could be a welcome tool to use against traffickers though punishing asylum seekers for their method of travel is problematic. As noted in the Legal Gazette and other sources, this would create two tiers of asylum seekers dependent on their method of travel. This will inevitably lead to clashes with (if not breaches) the 1951 Refugee Convention which allows for unorthodox methods of travel to places of safety in the case of seeking asylum.

The plan also seems to endorse the use of offshore asylum-seeking centres. Last year eyebrows were raised at the thought of Ascension Island being used as a base to offload asylum seekers whose applications were being reviewed. Clearly, the Home Office has been taking inspiration from Australia’s processing systems on the islands of Manus and Naura which have been a nexus of human rights abuse allegations.

The UK has apparently reached an understanding of the value of such policies with Denmark, who are also considering a similar strategy to create third party country processing systems. These could be based in areas of Africa such as Rwanda and Egypt which are hardly champions of refugee rights.

Whilst responding to the Guardian, one Home Office employee tried to understate the importance of this Danish “solution” stating that it was premature to say that the UK was pursuing such policies.

However, it is stated in the Plan that “we will also amend sections 77 and 78 of the Nationality Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 so that it is possible to move asylum seekers from the UK while their asylum claim, or appeal is pending.” If this option is merely in its infancy, then it must be asked why are changes to legislation to this effect are even mentioned in the plan?

After a High Court judge found that the Home Office had illegally housed asylum seekers in squalid condition in Napier Barracks, Folkestone. It is concerning that if asylum seekers are being housed in illegal conditions in the UK, whose government argues they offer generous benefits to them, what will they experience housed in accommodation in a country they may have never visited and never intended to reach?

This government has been known to attack “lefty lawyers” and “do-gooders” who are representing vulnerable people. Incorporated in the New Plan is the Good Faith Requirement for applicants and their representatives. The rule requires for the relevant parties to be truthful, present evidence timely and leave the UK when the claim is refused.

There seems to be little new here. As a rule, lawyers are meant to act according to strict ethical codes to enforce the rights of their client. This Good Faith Requirement seems to be there to enforce the government’s own view and representation of the asylum-seeking process, and that it can be played for the benefit of unmeritorious claims.

From the lawyers’ perspective, they are representing their client using the rules and regulation which have been set out to them to the best of their ability, rather than maliciously trying to cheat the taxpayer out of their money.

Very recently a High Court judge ordered the Home Office to return an asylum seeker known as AA to the UK. He had only gone through a light screening of questions in a departure from current Home Office policy. This case just goes to show that speeding up a system that deals with complicated cases can create more harm than good.

Ultimately, it is well within the Home Office’s remit to reform immigration policy, but the oppressive nature of such policy toward asylum seekers and those representing them provides a gloomy outlook for a new Global Britain.

David Hildebrand is a writer, and correspondent for Immigration Advice Service, a legal organisation that helps undocumented migrants to regulate their status.