Priti Patel today unveiled a major overhaul of the UK’s asylum system as she said illegal migrants ‘should and could’ make claims in the European countries they pass through on their way to Britain.
The Home Secretary warned the current asylum system is ‘collapsing’ because of the strain placed on it by people smugglers and dangerous Channel crossings.
She said people who arrive in the UK illegally having travelled through France and Germany are ‘not seeking refuge from persecution’ but rather ‘you are choosing the UK as your preferred destination’.
Outlining a raft of measures designed to toughen up the current system, Ms Patel said her new plan will mark a ‘step change in our approach’ to asylum which will ‘deter illegal entry and the criminals that endanger life by enabling it’.
At the heart of the plan is a decision to differentiate between people who arrive in Britain via illegal and legal routes.
Those who come to the UK via an unauthorised route will see their privileges slashed.
Ms Patel said a crackdown is necessary to ‘protect lives because we cannot carry on as we are with people dying in the hands of gangsters and smugglers’.
Her comments came as UK Border Force today brought more people ashore as a result of small boat crossings in the Channel, with 800 people estimated to have made the crossing so far this year.
A young family amongst a group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, by Border Force officers following a small boat incident in the Channel today
Priti Patel said changes will help ‘create safe and legal routes to give people the chance to resettle and access our asylum’ while also combatting people smuggling and dangerous Channel crossings
Migrants are helped ashore on the Border Force vessel ‘Hunter’ as they walk onto Dover Harbour in Kent yesterday
No right to settle under Priti Priti’s asylum blitz
- Illegal migrants will no longer have the right to settle in the UK, even if granted asylum. Instead, they will get ‘temporary protection’ status for 30 months, with only limited access to benefits.
- Efforts to remove those who enter illegally via a safe country to be stepped up.
- Appeals streamlined to stop last-minute legal bids thwarting the removal of failed asylum seekers.
- Judicial review process to be reformed so it is used less frequently.
- Maximum sentence for people smugglers raised to life, and to five years for foreign criminals who return to the UK in breach of a deportation order.
- Reception centres to provide ‘simple, safe’ housing while claims are processed.
- Asylum seekers must give more evidence of ‘well-founded fear of persecution’.
- More rigorous age assessments to stop adult asylum seekers posing as children.
- New humanitarian routes for the ‘vulnerable’ in ‘immediate danger’.
Setting out her ‘New Plan for Immigration’, Ms Patel told the House of Commons this afternoon that ‘while people are dying we have a responsibility to act’.
She said: ‘At the heart of our new plan for immigration is a simple principle: Fairness.
‘Access to the UK’s asylum system should be based on need, not the ability to pay people smugglers.
‘If you enter illegally from a safe country like France where you should and could have claimed asylum, you are not seeking refuge from persecution as is the intended purpose of the asylum system.
‘Instead, you are choosing the UK as your preferred destination and you are doing so at the expense of those with no where else to go.
‘Our system is collapsing under the pressure of parallel illegal routes to asylum, facilitated by criminal smugglers.’
The Home Secretary said the changes will help to deter people from making the perilous journey across the Channel.
‘This plan marks a step change in our approach as we toughen our stance to deter illegal entry and the criminals that endanger life by enabling it,’ she said.
‘Many illegal arrivals have travelled through a safe country like France to get to the UK where they could and should have claimed asylum.
‘We must act to reduce the pull factors of our system and disincentivise illegal entry.’
Ms Patel said the asylum claim process will be streamlined, telling MPs: ‘For too long our justice system has been gamed.
‘Almost three quarters of migrants in detention raise last minute new claims, challenges on other issues, with over eight in 10 of these eventually being denied as valid reasons to stay in the UK.
‘Enough is enough. Our new plan sets out a one stop process to require all claims to be made upfront.’
The plan will mean that people who come to the UK via unauthorised routes – such as crossing the Channel in small boats – will be given far fewer privileges.
The plan states that illegal migrants who have ‘passed through safe countries’ where they could have claimed asylum ‘will be considered inadmissible to the UK’s asylum system’.
The UK will seek the ‘rapid removal of inadmissible cases to the safe country from which they embarked or to another safe third country’.
Even if they have a legitimate claim to refugee status, migrants who arrive illegally will be granted permission to stay in the UK only temporarily.
This so-called ‘temporary protection status’ will also come with ‘less generous entitlements’ in terms of access to benefits.
People whose cases are deemed inadmissible but who cannot be returned to their country of origin or to another safe country will also have limited family reunion rights.
The changes will also make it possible for asylum claims to be processed outside the UK and in another country.
The plan states that ‘this will keep the option open, if required in the future, to develop the capacity for offshore asylum processing’.
By comparison, successful asylum seekers who applied in advance to come here through legal routes, such as the United Nations’ refugee agency, will be rewarded.
They will win permission to come to Britain immediately and will be allowed to stay here indefinitely.
The proposals contained within the plan will now be subject to a six week period of consultation followed by the Government bringing forward legislation to put the measures into law.
Refugee charities claim many migrants have no choice but to come to the UK via illegal routes and have slammed the proposals as ‘inhumane’.
Ms Patel had earlier told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that illegal migrants should make claims in the European countries they travel through on their way to Britain.
Told that critics believe it is unfair to differentiate based on method of arrival because many people arriving via unauthorised routes will still have strong asylum claims, Ms Patel said: ‘Well, they would also have a perfectly acceptable case to be given asylum in the same countries that they have travelled from, so France, Germany, Italy, Belgium.
‘These are not war zones, they are safe countries, and it is important to emphasise that, they are absolutely playing into the hands of the people smugglers, the criminals who not only put their lives at risk by smuggling them into the UK but these criminals are also part of OCGs, organised criminal gangs, that are responsible for a raft of criminal activity – smuggling guns, drugs, people into the country.
More than 100 migrants crossed the English Channel yesterday on what is believed to be the record day of the year
A map shows the points along the coast where migrants have landed in the UK over the past year after crossing from France
The number of asylum applications lodged in the UK in the years ending December 2011 to December last year, dropping after the Covid pandemic was declared
The number of people offered protection in the form of resettlement (bottom line), asylum and alternative forms of leave (middle line) totalled 9,936 in 2020. The total number of people granted asylum or some form of protection (top line) fell by more than half that of 2019
Priti Patel mocked over ‘OCGs’ reference as Twitter users ask if she has been watching Line of Duty
Priti Patel was mocked this morning after she referred to ‘OCGs’ during an interview as Twitter users asked if the Home Secretary had been watching Line of Duty.
The TV crime drama is well known for its extensive use of authentic police jargon.
One of the terms used on the programme is OCG which stands for organised crime group.
Ms Patel told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that people smugglers are ‘also part of OCGs, organised criminal gangs, that are responsible for a raft of criminal activity’.
The comment prompted ridicule on Twitter as one user said: ‘Priti Patel just used the acronym OCG on R4. Line of Duty has real cut through.’
Another said: ‘Priti Patel’s obviously been watching Line of Duty…’
Another user added: ‘Did Priti Patel really just say OCG on R4? What next? Illegal immigrants spotted at 1A on the matrix??’
‘That is not right and it is important that as a country we do much more to stop that from happening and also to protect lives because we cannot carry on as we are with people dying in the hands of gangsters and smugglers and I think until we can actually tackle these issues, inaction is not an option.’
The Home Secretary said overnight that under her plan people arriving illegally ‘will no longer have the same entitlements as those who arrive legally, and it will be harder for them to stay’.
‘If, like over 60 per cent of illegal arrivals, they have travelled through a safe country like France to get here, they will not have immediate entry into the asylum system – which is what happens today,’ she said.
‘I make no apology for these actions being firm, but as they will also save lives and target people smugglers, they are also undeniably fair.’
Other elements in the wide-ranging package announced today include streamlining the asylum appeals process, and setting up reception centres to replace hotel accommodation and ex-Army barracks used during the pandemic.
It will also be made harder for asylum seekers to make unsubstantiated claims of persecution.
An independent body will be set up to determine the true age of applicants suspected to be posing as children, as revealed by the Daily Mail last week.
Jail sentences will be increased for people smugglers and foreign criminals who sneak back into the country after being deported.
A new humanitarian route will be created to make it easier to bring individuals to Britain if they face imminent danger in their homeland – as in the case of Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian who spent eight years on death row on blasphemy charges before she was acquitted in 2019.
Labour shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said he feared the changes would not curtail the number of people making ‘dangerous crossings’ to reach Britain.
‘Measures are clearly needed to speed up processes and stop criminal gangs profiting from dangerous crossings,’ he said.
‘However, we fear these plans will do next to nothing to stop people making dangerous crossings, and risk withdrawing support from desperate people, such as victims of human trafficking.’
The number of asylum applicants to the top five countries in the EU+ and the UK for the years ending November 2014 to November last year, with Italy receiving the smallest number of applications in 2020. The other EU+ category includes all other countries that are European Union member states, part of the European Economic Area and Switzerland
The top 10 nationalities claiming asylum in the UK and the grant rate at initial decision (shown by percentage) in 2019 and 2020. The most applications in both 2019 and 2020 came from Iran, while Eritrea and Syria had the highest grant rates last year
Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, accused the Government of ‘seeking to unjustly differentiate between the deserving and undeserving refugee by choosing to provide protection for those fleeing war and terror based on how they travel to the UK’.
He claimed the plans could undermine the country’s traditions of providing protection for people ‘regardless of how they have managed to find their way to our shores’.
Mike Adamson, chief executive of the British Red Cross, branded the changes ‘inhumane’, adding: ‘We should not judge how worthy someone is of asylum by how they arrived here.’