The unworkable Rwanda scheme continues to face legal challenges one year after its announcement. Conservatives openly view Greece’s self-described “strict but fair” migration policies as a model to follow. The British government is giving itself powers to turn bases into migrant camps without consulting locals and councils after severe critiques over controversial housing plans of asylum seekers.

The government has defended its “Stop the Boats” bill, that denies the right to protection for those arriving in the UK irregularly, claiming that people attempting to seek asylum should use safe and legal routes. But “what are ‘safe and legal’ routes for refugees?”, Professor David Cantor asks in an op-ed, adding that “The Bill does not clarify the term but the concept implies a route by which refugees will lawfully be able to enter the country and stay here”. The current “safe and legal” routes available are the resettlement schemes and bespoke schemes open for people fleeing Hong Kong, Ukraine and Afghanistan. Cantor also raises the question of whether “safe and legal” routes will stop the small boats crossing the channel. “Certainly, the more pragmatic options are unlikely to remove the need for some refugees to arrive by irregular means or routes; and none will dispense with the need for a functioning system of territorial asylum in the UK”, he explains. A year after the announcement of the Tories’ £140m Rwanda policy, “All the promises they made about the Rwanda deal are now ringing hollow”. Small boat migrants threatened with deportation to Rwanda have been accepted into the asylum system after months of living in limbo. Home Office figures show that between April and October 2022, 6,200 notices of intent were issued while almost 3,200 asylum seekers were “subsequently admitted into the UK asylum process”. And channel arrivals continue. Almost 5,000 people have made the journey so far in 2023, almost the same figure seen by the same point in 2022. On 16 and 17 April, a total of 150 people made it to the UK in small boats.

Meanwhile, the controversial Rwanda scheme continues to face legal challenges. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has given formal notification to the UK government of an application by an Iraqi asylum-seeker (anonymised as NSK) challenging his removal to Rwanda as it would violate his rights under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). ECtHR granted an interim measure to prevent the applicant’s removal until the domestic courts had the opportunity to consider his risk of treatment contrary to Article 3 of the Convention, the fact that Rwanda was outside the Convention’s legal space and the absence of any enforceable mechanism to return to the UK in the event of a successful challenge. It is the same case for which a high-profile interim measure was issued by the ECtHR last June, effectively halting the first removal flight to Rwanda. Further, the NGO Asylum Aid will appeal on 24-27 April against the High Court’s judgment on the Rwanda policy. “Now more than ever it’s important that we fight the Rwanda plan, as the government’s new “Illegal Migration” Bill relies on the Home Office’s inhumane model of removing people seeking asylum to Rwanda”, the organisation underlined. Besides, Rwanda’s opposition leader calls “Rwanda deal unrealistic and unfair to all sides”, adding that the country lacks the space to house thousands of migrants from the UK and migrants will face persecution if they protest against the conditions and most likely will struggle to find work.

Welsh MP Stephen Kinnock demanded that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak  correct ‘deeply misleading asylum backlog’ claims. In December 2022, Sunak claimed that the number of asylum cases awaiting a Home Office decision had declined when in fact there had been a substantial increase – from under 19,000 to 166,000 under the conservative government. “It is a desperate attempt to disguise the Prime Minister’s failure to stop the channel crossings, his failure to return asylum seekers whose claims have been rejected, and his failure to process claims at anything like the rate they were being processed 10 years ago. As a result, asylum seekers are stuck in hotels for months on end, their mental health deteriorating, at a cost of £6m a day to the tax-payer.” Meanwhile, Home Office introduced a training course for its staff to “make them behave more compassionately”, urging immigration caseworkers to display greater empathy to avoid further “reputational damage” to the department. Progress is yet to be seen. However, frontline immigration lawyers find the promotion of an empathetic approach was “starkly at odds” with the “very hostile” language of Suella Braverman which “demonises migrants and those from migrant communities and an inefficient system which leaves people in limbo for years”. French MEP Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield said that Braverman’s “populist” rhetoric towards asylum seekers is “frightening” even for some far-right wing European politicians and is negatively affecting how EU sees Britain. Prominent Conservatives openly view Greece’s self-described “strict but fair” migration policies as a model to follow. The former home secretary Priti Patel told MPs in March that “we would not be in this current situation” had she been allowed to replicate “Greek-style reception centres”. “In both countries there is a veneer of humanism justifying tough policies”, Patel continued.

The British government is attempting to declare channel crossing an “emergency” of “national importance” in order to establish migrant camps without consulting locals and councils.  The government has been under fire over the controversial plans aimed at housing asylum seekers in ferries or military bases. This new process would make the currently required consultations with local communities optional, rather than legally necessary. Councils would have no power to veto major developments. “The law does not contain sufficient limits”, said Former Liberal Democrat leader said, adding: “This kind of camp-style site is no place for people who have escaped dreadful things and sought asylum. They are dealing with trauma and mental health issues and have experienced appalling things.” 171 organisations sent a joint letter to the Prime Minister concerning the “manufactured crisis of the Government’s own making” urging him to “listen to common sense” and scrap plans for asylum camps at military bases, as well as on ferries and barges. The letter reads: “The solutions lie not in headline-grabbing announcements and punitive accommodation regimes aimed at deterrence—none of which will succeed in their stated aims. The safest, quickest and most cost-effective way to end the use of hotels and fix the problems in our asylum accommodation system would be through making fair and timely decisions on people’s asylum claims.” Besides, the former airbase that the Home Office has claimed in order to house up to 2,000 asylum seekers has a high risk of “radioactive” contamination, a new report has found. Meanwhile, UN special rapporteurs on trafficking in persons, human rights of migrants and contemporary forms of slavery recently warned the UK government over trafficking risk faced by asylum seeker children. “The current policy of placing unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in hotels places them outside of the UK child protection system and is discriminatory,” the experts said, adding that failures and gaps in child protection heighten risks of trafficking. In order to prevent children from being trafficked, police have been collecting sensitive data of unaccompanied child asylum seekers and sharing it with immigration enforcement, sparking concerns over misuse of the collected information for their deportation. “The best way to ensure children’s protection is to refer them immediately to children’s social care to ensure that there is a full assessment of their needs and that they are looked after safely by social workers who are trained to do so”, says Patricia Durr, chief executive of the children’s rights organisation Every Child Protected Against Trafficking.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.