Using asylum seekers to make colonialism great again

Ah, what fresh hell is this?

After her previous plans to create ‘legal routes’ into the UK for asylum seekers – and you can read here about those proposals here and why they are deeply problematic and unworkable – Priti Patel has popped up with yet more news for asylum seekers. This time, she has struck some sort of deal with Denmark to share a detention centre with them. In a move reminiscent of the days of yore, when we used to send prisoners to Australia, they have agreed to set one up in Rwanda, hereby criminalising and exiling asylum seekers the minute they arrive in the UK.

The Times (paywall) does not say exactly who will be sent to this offshore processing centre. It is unclear whether all asylum seekers will be sent there or just those who travel by so-called illegal routes. They do report, however, the following:

The legislation will allow for the biggest overhaul of Britain’s asylum system in a generation. Migrants who arrive illegally will have their status automatically downgraded on arrival so that they can be considered only for temporary leave to remain. They would be denied access to benefits and regularly reassessed for removal.

So, those deemed to have arrived illegally will not be allowed any access to benefits and will not be given indefinite leave to remain. As it happens, very few receive such leave. Most are granted 5 years and then have to reapply, with indefinite leave only usually being granted on the second application (if at all). It may simply be spelling out what largely already happens, but could well be suggesting shorter terms of leave and more frequent need to reapply with no possibility of future long-term leave being granted. The report is unclear.

As I have spelt out before, this is not good news for asylum seekers. The so-called legal routes are largely untenable for most people fleeing their country to take. Very few who are fleeing their government/regime are able to turn up to an airport, with their passport and all their belongings and ask to hop on the first flight out of Tehran whilst their government have a warrant out for their arrest. In fact, such a person would get to the UK and find short shrift as their escape would be deemed to be the actions of somebody who had little to fear at home. Those able to blithely leave, having gone home to collect all their things – who had the time to collect and collate reams of evidence before they left – do not typically look like those fleeing for their lives.

Again, I don’t want to keep repeating myself but it does seem necessary, the so-called legal routes are an illusion at any rate. As I said in my earlier post:

Even before we get into the specifics, there are issues with the use of the term ‘legal route’. It suggests that those currently coming into the country are doing so illegally. But it is well known that the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the status of refugees states that asylum seekers will often have to travel by ‘irregular means’. The legal protocol for claiming asylum is to enter the country by whatever means you are able and then to present yourself to the authorities at the earliest opportunity to claim asylum. Depending on how you view this convention, there are either no legal means to enter to the country as an asylum seeker, but you become a recognised asylum seeker when you present yourself to the authorities, or any means of entering the country is legal if you are presenting yourself as an asylum seeker immediately. But the 1951 Convention is clear enough – entering by so-called ‘illegal routes’ is not, in point of fact, illegal if you are seeking asylum.

And so, the Home Secretary is saying one of two things. Either almost all asylum seekers are going to be treated as though they have entered illegally or none will. Unless this is just a bit of gesture politics designed to look like they’re doing something when they aren’t – which is not beyond the realms of possibility – we have to assume it won’t be the latter. If the former, almost all asylum seekers will be treated as having entered illegally and not permitted to to receive long-term leave to remain. The few who get here by so-called legal routes will probably be rejected because their applications seem spurious because of the route they could take and the evidence they were able to get together before coming. It is hard not to conclude we are essentially saying we are shut to asylum seekers altogether.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with the government limiting economic migration if they wish, or setting policies that bind everyone fairly. But to determine from the front end that asylum seekers are merely economic migrants is neither right nor fair. More to the point, it is not as though offering NASS support to an asylum seeker whilst their case is heard is providing a great deal of support. Most would not risk their necks for what we offer on NASS. If those who are claiming asylum are here for economic reasons, we should hear their case in the UK and determine whether they are genuine in our own courts. I have no problem deporting economic migrants who claim to be seeking asylum and seek to get around the system, but we can only know they are such if they are given a fair hearing. More to the point, we frequently reject cases on the grounds of their being spurious and then refuse to deport because to do so would be ‘too dangerous’. That rather suggests the claim is not as spurious as is often suggested.

What we cannot do is assume from the front end that all asylum seekers are doing this. Most are not. The damage to the country of some economic migrants claiming asylum – and receiving meagre NASS support whilst their claim is heard – is considerably less than that of assuming all asylum seekers are basically economic migrants and sending them all home. Nor is it reasonable to fob the issue off to another country. Our official position appears to be that we don’t want them, so it can be Rwanda’s problem instead.

The issue that many come back to in all of this is that dangerous sea crossings are nothing good. People smugglers taking advantage of desperate people are also terrible. It is right to want to deal with these issues. But many would argue the way to stop people smugglers is to remove the market. Some would say this is what the Home Secretary is doing. Unfortunately, the people she damages most are the very ones we are supposed to be helping. The people smugglers will still take their money, still send them on dangerous boats and continue to make promises they can’t keep. Most asylum seekers have no idea what the system is when they arrive nor what benefits are or are not available to them. People continuing to promise to get them to the UK if they pay up will continue to trade on their misery. The plans will not stop the actual problem and will damage those who are victimised by it, making victims of them all over again when they arrive.

The way to address the people smugglers and dangerous crossings is, as has been said before, to provide safe routes. It is not to demonise people arriving by ‘irregular means’ that are recognised as legally permissible when seeking asylum. Instead, it is to provide crossings for people that are not dangerous. As soon as you provide safe and accessible routes for people to come – routes that do not require money and are practicable – only then will the people smuggling market die. Who is going to pay a gang to smuggle them across the channel in a dangerous boat when the British and French governments (for example) have their own, free means of crossing on safe transport manned by their own border guards? Once they are here, we can then hear their case fairly and determine whether there is credit to the claim. This would stop people washing up on our shores unannounced and kill off the people smuggling gangs. Insisting that people crossing by other means would be automatically rejected, if we were to provide such a service, would be entirely reasonable. Offering more safe routes, that are practical and readily accessible is the answer to the problem at hand.

The reason they won’t do this is that they do not want it to appear as though we have an open door. But, of course, we won’t have an open door because we will still hear cases. Our NASS support is not generous enough to give economic migrants enough value to risk their lives to receive it. And we will continue to deport those whose cases are not credible. We already reject a significant number of cases and I don’t expect much to change in that regard.

But as it stands, Priti Patel is proposing a system that is weighted against anyone who would claim asylum. She wants them to arrive in such a way as is impossible for most of them and those who arrive as she hopes will damage their own case on the grounds that they were able to do as she asked. Worse, she intends to effectively criminalise desperate people and, worse still, fob them off onto another country. If our imperialistic past is something of a political problem these days, it seems a strange move to approach an African nation again and ask them to wear a problem that we don’t seem willing to wear ourselves. It does feel a little bit like using the resources of another place for our own ends simply because we can. Colonialism, it seems, is not quite dead yet.