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Human rights groups give Starmer blueprint for asylum overhaul

Exclusive: Letter sent to No 10 calls for laws to be repealed, safe routes to UK and end to ‘perma-backlog’ of applicants

By Diane Taylor

July 9, 2024

Credits @FFHR.CZ

Hundreds of refugee and human rights organisations have written to Keir Starmer with a blueprint for asylum policy which urges him to change course from the policies of the previous government.

The letter, which includes signatories from 300 civil society organisations along with 534 individuals working with migrants, says the existing policy is “fundamentally broken”.

It sets out nine key demands, which if adopted by the Labour government would signal a change of direction on one of the most controversial and high-profile policy areas of the last government.

The letter, shared exclusively with the Guardian, states: “We are writing to you as grassroots organisations and individuals grounded firmly in our communities across the UK. We are proud to welcome people seeking safety. For years, we have stepped in to support people who have been targeted and brutalized by hostile policies. We are now calling on your government to take a new approach: protecting people seeking safety, rather than punishing them for political gain.”

It adds: “Successive pieces of unworkable, cruel legislation have effectively extinguished the right to seek asylum in the UK, creating an ever-growing ‘perma-backlog’ of tens of thousands of people. Some are being retraumatised in open-prison camps on barracks or barges.

“Others are left in overcrowded hostels with their mental health deteriorating whilst they are banned from finding employment. And Channel fatalities are at unthinkable levels, with a 450% increase in deaths at our border in the past 12 months.”

Signatories include the Refugee Council, Refugee Action, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and branches of Citizens Advice.

Their key demands include:

Restore the right to seek asylum in the UK in line with international law, by repealing the Illegal Migration Act and the Nationality and Borders Act.

Open safe routes for people seeking asylum to reach the UK so that people are not forced to risk their lives in the Channel, including providing visa routes, enabling families to reunite safely, and rebuilding refugee resettlement.

House people seeking asylum in communities, not camps, and close down all institutional accommodation including barracks, barges, hotels and hostels, which cause unnecessary lasting harm at an eye-watering cost to the taxpayer.

Restore the right to work for people seeking asylum within six months of arrival so people can rebuild their lives in dignity and contribute £1.2bn to the UK economy.

Sarah Wilson, director of Penrith and Eden Refugee Network (PERN) said: ‘‘Refugees have always been part of the UK and we ask our new government to rebuild this tradition. For too long, PERN has watched lives destroyed and talent lost because of the hostile environment. This makes no sense. It is time for change in how we treat those who seek sanctuary in the UK.”

Duncan McAuley, the chief executive of Action Foundation, said: “There’s an urgent need for a sensible, humane approach to people coming here to seek safety. We hope Labour will fix our broken asylum system and put an end to the demonisation of people forced to make dangerous journeys because there are no safe routes.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The government is determined to restore order to the asylum system so that it operates swiftly, firmly, and fairly, and ensures that the rules are properly enforced.”


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