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2022: A Year in Review – Home Office Asylum Policy

2022 has been a tumultuous year for the UK government and asylum issues. IAS partner John Cahill gives his thoughts and looks back on the year in review.

For more information about how IAS could help you with your immigration case, including if you’re a refugee or asylum applicant in need of legal aid, speak to one of our legal advisers today. Call us on 0333 4149244, or contact us online.

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Introduction

The year started with Boris Johnson residing in Number 10 and Priti Patel as Home Secretary. A lot was to happen in the months to come with major policy and legislative changes amidst unprecedented political upheaval at the heart of government.

At the time of writing, Suella Braverman holds the post of Home Secretary, her second time in office having resigned after only 44 days in post under Liz Truss’ due to an apparent security breach, only to be reappointed 6 days later under Rishi Sunak. Her reappointment ended Grant Shapps’ briefest of tenures as a stand-in.

Suella’s predecessor, Priti Patel, brought to end her more than three years in post in September 2022 and left behind a legacy of significant changes to policies regarding asylum in the UK.

Concerned by the increase in Channel crossings by people looking to enter the UK to claim asylum, Prime Minister Johnson announced a policy on 14 April 2022 that would see asylum seekers removed to Rwanda where their claims would be processed. During his announcement, Johnson stated:

“From today … anyone entering the UK illegally as well as those who have arrived illegally since January 1 may now be relocated to Rwanda”

Rwandan Deportations

The controversial plan, agreed for an initial period of 5 years, would see Rwanda take responsibility for such protection claims, along with any subsequent grant of status. A successful claimant would be granted permanent residence in Rwanda and would not have any status or residence in the UK. Those with criminal records, families and under-age migrants are exempt from the scheme.

In return, Rwanda would receive funding of £120m from the UK government, in addition to between £20,000-£30,000 per migrant. The initial maximum capacity offered by the Rwandan government was for 200 migrants.

All of this raised serious questions about public costs, what impact it would have given that 28,000 migrants made the crossing in 2021 and, most importantly, whether such a scheme was even lawful and compliant with the UK’s international obligations to refugees.

The maiden flight due to carry the first applicants under this scheme to Rwanda was scheduled to leave on 14 June 2022. It would never take place. The flight was cancelled following the intervention of the European Court of Human Rights and pressure from several groups including Detention Action, Care4Calais and the PCS Union. Since the cancellation, the charter airline that was due to operate the flight (Majorca-based Privilege Style) has withdrawn from the scheme.

Hearings took place before the Divisional Court in September and October 2022 and the judgments are expected in due course. Whatever the outcome, it is likely that further challenges will take place by the unsatisfied parties, meaning that this policy has effectively been suspended for the time being.

Priti Patel and ‘Inadmissible’ Asylum Claims

Earlier in January 2021, the Home Secretary Priti Patel had introduced new rules allowing the Government to decide whether an asylum claim was ‘inadmissible’, based on whether a claimant had previously had the opportunity to seek protection in a safe third country, or a country they have a connection to, before claiming sanctuary in the UK. These measures were introduced following the UK’s departure from the European Union and the Dublin Regulations, which provided a framework for applicants to be returned to Third Countries within the Union who had accepted responsibility for the claim.

These provisions were updated and brought into the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 with Home Office guidance stating:

“The inadmissibility process is intended to support safety of asylum seekers, the integrity of the border and the fairness of the asylum system, by encouraging asylum seekers to claim protection in the first safe country they reach and deterring them from making unnecessary and dangerous onward journeys to the UK.

In broad terms, asylum claims may be declared inadmissible and not substantively considered in the UK, if the claimant was previously present in or had another connection to a safe third country, where they claimed protection, or could reasonably be expected to have done so, provided there is a reasonable prospect of removing them in a reasonable time to a safe third country.”

Due to the way in which most claimants reach the UK (i.e. via other countries and without a visa), most asylum claims registered from 28 June 2022 will, theoretically at least, be classed as ‘inadmissible’. Given the absence of participation in a scheme similar to the Dublin Convention, in practice the government is unable to effect removal of claimants with ‘inadmissible’ claims to third countries with the claim eventually being processed in the UK. Ultimately, this means the policy serves only to add to an already significant delay to claims.

Changes in Refugee Statuses

In keeping with the backdrop of the Government’s concern with the rise in Channel crossings and an emphasis on deterrence, the Nationality and Border Act 2022 introduced a significant distinction in the status offered to successful claimants depending on how they arrived in the UK.

For claims registered from 28 June 2022 onwards, successful claimants will either be granted ‘Refugee permission’ for a period of 5 years if classed as a Group 1 refugee, or ‘temporary Refugee permission’ for an initial period of 30 months (with a view to settlement after 10 years) if classed as a Group 2 refugee. Those granted humanitarian protection for claims registered from 28 June 2022 will also now only be issued with temporary permission for 30 months with no provision to be granted leave for 5 years as before.

A claimant will fall into Group 1 under the 2022 Act if:

  • They have come to the United Kingdom directly from a country or territory where their life or freedom was threatened.
  • They have presented themselves without delay to the authorities.

If the above does not apply, a claimant will fall into Group 2, although there is an opportunity to challenge the decision if, for example, they arguably had no agency or control over their actions during their journey.

Delays and Deterrents

With an extra layer of decision-making and an additional aspect of casework management to navigate, an already stretched Home Office workforce is likely to be even further burdened, leading to further delay in asylum claims.

The backdrop to the ‘inadmissibility’ provisions, the ‘Rwanda policy’ and the above measures of the 2022 Act, is the pressure faced by the Government over the increase in Channel crossings following the UK’s departure from the European Union and participation in the ‘Dublin Regulations’.

The numbers, however, do not provide support for the deterrent efficacy of these policies. Data on the number of Channel crossings has been recorded since 2018. In 2020 the figure stood at 8,404. This then rose significantly to 28,526 in 2021. So far in 2022, the figure has exceeded 40,000.

Lawful and Unlawful Routes

In November 2022, Suella Braverman announced a £63m deal with France to reduce the number of Channel crossings, which will involve an increase in patrols to detect small boats and will allow UK officers to accompany and observe French counterparts on beach patrols. Whilst presented as a measure by Prime Minister Sunak to show an effort to “get a grip of [the] situation”, it follows on from a previous deal in 2021 worth £55m to fund additional beach patrols by French police.

Central to the narrative and framing of the policies we have seen this year is the distinction between those seeking protection through existing channels (Afghanistan Citizens Resettlement Scheme, Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy, Hong Kong British Nationals Overseas route, and the Ukraine Family Scheme and Homes for Ukraine Scheme), in opposition to those arriving in the UK ‘illegally’ or ‘unlawfully’ to claim asylum. This concept is a featured in the 2022 Act and is a consideration for Home Office caseworkers when deciding which ‘Group’ an applicant falls into:

  • Where a refugee has entered or is present in the United Kingdom unlawfully, the additional requirement is that they can show good cause for their unlawful entry or presence.
  • A person’s entry into or presence in the United Kingdom is unlawful if they require leave to enter or remain and do not have it.

This distinction suggests that those entering the UK ‘illegally’ should do so ‘legally’. However, it is not possible to apply for a visa to enter the UK in order to seek asylum. Unless you qualify under one of the ‘safe’ routes outlined above, there is no way of entering the UK to claim asylum that is not ‘unlawful’.

Questions Over Routes

This conundrum was put to the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, at a Home Affairs Select Committee hearing on 23 November 2022 when Tim Loughton MP asked her to consider how a hypothetical claimant from East Africa who faced persecution in her home country with a sibling living legally in the UK could seek protection here.

The excruciating response by the Home Secretary, who suggested the claimant may use ‘safe and legal routes’ despite the hypothetical claimant being eligible for none, provided no clue as to how such a claimant may seek sanctuary in the UK without doing so ‘illegally’ and without being at risk of their claim being ‘inadmissible’, eligible for removal under the ‘Rwanda policy’ or eligible for a reduced level of status in Group 2.

Meanwhile, asylum processing times are now at historic highs with many people seeking asylum waiting years just to attend an interview, let alone to receive a decision, often being accommodated in hotel rooms as an arrangement designed as a temporary measure thought to cost a staggering £5m per day. The number of people currently awaiting an initial decision is estimated to be 143,377.

Further Controversies and Complications

In an attempt to tackle the backlog, the Home Office has embarked upon a mass recruitment drive, but there is real concern over the experience and ability of newly recruited caseworkers to deal with complex claims with reports of inadequate training, a lack of understanding or awareness of the country of origin of many claimants and many new recruits coming from previous employment in supermarkets and fast-food chains. It is feared that this will affect the quality of decision-making and the possibility of an even greater number of onward appeals to the Immigration Tribunal.

According to Government statistics, 77% of initial claims made in the year to September 2022 resulted in either a grant of Humanitarian Protection or Refugee Status as defined by the Refugee Convention. Of the 33% of initial claims that did not result in a grant of status, 52% of appeals against refusals in the same period were allowed.

The year did not end well for the beleaguered Home Secretary with widespread media coverage of the disastrous overcrowding and squalid conditions at the Manston reception centre in Kent. Designed to hold a maximum of 1,600 people, it at one point held 4,000.

The centre had been the subject of a firebomb attack on 30 October 2022, which British police confirmed was motivated by ‘extreme right-wing ideology’. There were reports of drugs use by guards employed at the site, a diphtheria outbreak which resulted in the tragic death of an Iraqi man being held at the centre who had arrived in the UK on a small boat, and the seeming abandonment of several claimants in central London who had been dispersed from the centre.

There was further controversy with reports of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children being held in detention with ID being ignored or discounted, and ages deliberately altered to make them appear as adults. In early November, shocking claims emerged of sexual assaults against minors in a London hotel used to accommodate refugees which are the subject of ongoing investigations by the Metropolitan Police.

Concluding Thoughts

It is difficult to take stock of an eventful 2022 and to make sense of what 2023 holds in store. Suella Braverman, who is quoted as saying “I would love to have a front page of The Telegraph with a plane taking off to Rwanda, that’s my dream, it’s my obsession”, remains Home Secretary for the time being at least.

In what is perhaps an ominous end to the year, the Home Secretary wrote a foreword to a report by the thinktank Centre for Policy Studies which proposes, amongst other things, the indefinite detention of all asylum seekers who enter the country ‘illegally’, rapid relocation of such claimants to Rwanda, reaching similar deals to Rwanda with other willing countries, denying asylum claims from those who arrived in the UK via a safe third country, granting asylum only to claims made through resettlement routes with an annual cap of 20,000, and a withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights if required to achieve these objectives.

Whilst not claiming to agree with everything contained within the report, the tone is one of determination in pushing ahead with the ‘Rwanda plan’ with suggestions that further operational and legislative changes may be forthcoming. Despite policy efforts to the contrary, the number of Channel crossings appears not to have abated which will increase pressure on the government. The fear for 2023, is that this pressure will lead to increasingly desperate measures.

How Can IAS Help?

The process of claiming asylum in the UK is one that can be fraught with difficulty and stress.

As migration numbers increase and more and more people seek asylum around the world, it’s important that support and advice is readily available and accessible for those who need it most.

If you’re in need of additional advice on how to claim asylum in the UK, or need specific bespoke advice from an immigration professional regarding your immigration case, IAS can help.

We are professional and knowledgeable legal advisers specialising in immigration law. We are experienced in handling asylum and refugee claims from a wide variety of backgrounds and situations, and are on hand to help with your case.

Whether you’re looking to be settled under an existing UK resettlement scheme, need assistance as an asylum seeker looking for permission to stay in the UK, or know of any unaccompanied children or prospective asylum seekers who require help, we can assist.

We can also help with groups of resettled refugees who have claimed asylum under schemes such as the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme or other associated government programmes who still require advice and assistance with living in the UK.

For more information about the services we offer and what we could do for you, reach out to one of our immigration advisers today. Call us on 0333 4149244, or contact us online.

Contact us today if you require assistance with your refugee or asylum claim in the UK.

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