Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary have submitted evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee on Channel Crossings.
Here is the full version of the submission:
Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary are an Associated Organisation of the Liberal Democrat Party. We support asylum-seekers and refugees who lack a formal political voice, and we urge all institutions and society generally to treat them with equal concern, respect, and dignity. Our evidence is submitted in order to draw attention to more effective, humane and economical ways of controlling the UK border.
- Controlling the UK border
Everything else we shall say in this submission starts from the premise that the UK should be able to have effective control over its sovereign borders, for those leaving the UK as well as those arriving, so that we are able to know who currently resides in the state and whether they do so legally with unexpired entry visas. It can and must control its borders in accordance with its international human rights and refugee law obligations.
In respect of regularised travel, the UK has effectively ‘outsourced’ much of its border control to land, sea, and air passenger carriers, who check travel documents to confirm identity and entitlement to enter the UK.
Yet, whereas the vast majority of those entering the UK do so regularly, not everyone does – as the recent channel crossings have demonstrated.
Recent governments have resorted to physical means to prevent irregular entry. The Communiqué issued after the 35th UK-France Summit at Sandhurst on 18th January 2018 devotes paragraphs 48-55 to Migration, “Modern Slavery”, Human Trafficking, and joint management of the shared border between the United Kingdom and France. Paragraph 53 refers to an additional €50m additional UK financial support for 2018. It is unfortunate that the communiqué in its paragraphs 52 and 55 speaks of illegal migrants and illegal migration when no distinction is made between economic migrants subject to the Immigration laws currently in force and those seeking asylum. It is always legal to seek asylum under the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, as stated in section 2 below.
Those crossing the Channel are using international waters; labelling such crossings as ‘illegal’ is wrong and does nothing to stop it happening. What is criminal is the activity of people smugglers and people traffickers. However, we need to reflect on the reason people smugglers operate in the Channel: it is because there are no safe and legal routes for those present in Northern France who seek asylum in the UK to do so. Hence, rather than travel on a relatively inexpensive commercial carrier across the channel, asylum-seekers are forced to pay people smugglers extortionate amounts for the pleasure of travelling in an unsafe dinghy; worse still, upon arrival, they may get trapped in modern slavery conditions, unable to leave even if they so desire.
- Legal framework
The UK has ratified the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol, which expanded the Convention’s application to refugees coming from outside Europe. They bind the UK in international and indeed in domestic law. The UK has also ratified European and international human rights treaties, most relevantly the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the Convention against Torture (CAT) which contain additional non-refoulement obligations constraining the scope of the UK’s deportation powers. The UK’s withdrawal from the EU does not affect the scope and breadth of these treaties. The Dublin III regulation referred to in paragraph 52 of the Sandhurst communiqué will cease to have effect in the UK at the end of 2020. In any case it is questionable whether this EU law can override the UN 1951 Convention, which does not require asylum seekers to apply for asylum in any particular safe country.
- The people smugglers’ market
The oral evidence recently given to HASC by the relevant officials tells us that those who have been caught crossing the Channel recently are overwhelmingly asylum seekers. Those who are coming here as tourists, students or to a job meet the requirements of Immigration law and take ordinary commercial routes into the UK. Those who wish to seek asylum do mostly come by the ordinary routes, as the number of asylum seekers recorded by the Home Office shows, but clearly not in every case.
There would seem to be two possible explanations for this sorry state of affairs. The first is that they cannot get the necessary documentation to allow them to buy a commercial ticket to travel, as airlines or shipping companies will not take those who do not have a valid entry document for the UK. The second is that some asylum seekers have no confidence in receiving a fair hearing when they apply for asylum. If that is the explanation, it is a condemnation of the ‘hostile environment’ created over the last ten years or more by the Home Office, and a negation of British fair play and sense of justice.
On the face of it there is a straightforward and inexpensive solution to the first explanation. The UK could enable those wishing to seek asylum to indicate their wish and present a concise prima facie case at a British embassy, consulate, or border control point. They could be asked to sign a declaration that they were travelling to claim asylum in the UK, providing their name, nationality and a statement of their ID document (including any of which they have been deprived). They could then be issued with a temporary permit to enter the UK to claim asylum which they would present on arrival.
Dealing with the second explanation requires a review of the Home Office’s current practices. The guidance to Home Office staff ‘Asylum screening and routing Version 5.0’ of 2nd April 2020 is a document which should enable the Committee to consider all aspects of current Home Office practices. Unfortunately the version available online is heavily redacted, not least in its section on clandestine arrivals. LD4SOS would welcome the Committee having the opportunity to consider in evidence an unredacted copy of this staff guidance.
Two aspects of current Home Office practice might, if changed, make the process of considering asylum applications more humane at reduced cost to the taxpayer. Firstly, the present significant proportion of asylum cases lost on appeal says that money could be saved by getting decisions right first time. One way of doing this would be by having a culture of belief, where any statement that could be checked was checked but where those that could not be checked were accepted for the purposes of processing asylum applications. It may also be that costs could be further saved by reducing or abandoning administrative immigration detention except perhaps for the night before a deportation when all appeals have been exhausted. Secondly, allowing asylum seekers to work while their claim is considered and thus to support themselves instead of relying on the Home Office is likely to provide an incentive to the Home Office to complete their assessment of an asylum application promptly. If in the end an asylum seeker’s claim was rejected and they left the country, their experience of work in the UK would allow them to apply for work from abroad and hope to find an employer who would support an application under the UK Immigration laws. A failed asylum claim should be no bar to this.
- The Dublin Regulation
The oral evidence given to HASC by the relevant officials on 3 September 2020 reveals that those asylum seekers who have been caught crossing the Channel recently have overwhelmingly been sent to other EU countries under the Dublin Regulation; they indicated that no similar return arrangements exist at present with other states. The compatibility of the Dublin regulation with international refugee law and international human rights law is a longstanding concern, and indeed ‘Dublin returns’ to certain EU member states have been previously halted by both the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice on the ground that they would breach the ECHR and EU law, respectively. As the call for evidence notes, the Dublin regulations contain certain exceptions, most notably in respect of family reunion: it is incumbent on UK authorities to inform asylum applicants, including those crossing the channel, of the existence of such exceptions. It is also important to note that, while the Regulation permits the UK – within a time limit – to request a Dublin transfer, it does not require it to do so: given that, according to the oral evidence referenced above, only 6-7% of asylum applicants in the EU submitted their applications in the UK, it would be morally right for the UK to consider carefully the need for such requests. In any event, the Dublin regulation will cease to have effect in the UK on 31st December 2020 and seems unlikely to be replaced with a similar arrangement.
- Ending Channel crossings
The measures so far proposed to reduce the attractiveness of unorthodox modes of travel to the UK require confidence among asylum seekers that they will be fairly treated on arrival. They know they are risking their lives, as the deaths crossing the Mediterranean and in refrigerated lorries show, not to mention those who have frozen to death in the hold of an aircraft. This suggests that they have good reasons not only for seeking asylum but for seeking it in the UK. What is needed to allow them to come and claim here is a reduction in the hyperventilation surrounding the issue of asylum seekers, and here Government must take the lead. The total numbers seeking asylum in the UK are much lower than those seeking asylum in France or Germany, to take but our two nearest neighbours. In terms of efforts made to settle individuals in the UK, who by definition are refugees not asylum seekers, the UK has a not trivial positive record, but is still way behind other countries. The UK has an image of itself as a country with a proud history of saving the persecuted by offering sanctuary here. It can refer to its reception of those who suffered from the pogroms of Eastern Europe in the late 19th century as well as from the Kindertransport in the late 1930s. Pressurising asylum seekers to go elsewhere is a betrayal of that proud tradition. The Ugandan Asians are just one more recent group to benefit from this welcome to asylum seekers and may be followed by some Hong Kong residents who may decide to leave given the worrying recent developments. It is up to government to show that it processes asylum claims strictly according to whether the claimants meet the requirements of the 1951 UN Convention, and to show that those who wish to work here must apply under UK Immigration law, so that there can be no question of admitting economic migrants as asylum seekers. Ensuring this distinction is maintained and that asylum seekers are greeted with a culture of belief would go a long way to ensure that Britain’s reputation as a place of sanctuary is restored, and that we benefit, like France and Germany, from the new arrivals who have sought asylum here because they want to contribute to this country.
There is a simple answer to that one. We are part of a global family, whilst the under 18 year old’s who have crossed the channel are in our country, we look after them.
Whilst the landings are in Kent, it is Kent County Council that has the immediate responsibility, but understandably they can only take so many to give the care needed and have made a clear plea for help, last week https://kccmediahub.net/kent-leader-announces-we-cannot-safely-meet-our-statutory-duty-as-council-reaches-capacity-for-the-care-of-unaccompanied-asylum-seeking-children745
Child detention for immigration purposes ended during the Coaltion, it was a “red line” issue for the Lib Dems, and thousands of children were detained no more. Then in 2014 they fought for it to be enshrined in law that children should not be detained, and can no longer be, apart from a necessary 24 hours for initial health checking and safeguarding issues. It is crucial that they are not able to just go onto the streets of Dover where their smugglers or similar could be waiting for them, to use for exploitation and modern slavery.
Over the last four days, 677 refugees have arrived on the Kent coast having made the dangerous journey across the channel from Northern France. This has caused such hysteria among politicians and sections of the media.
The hysteria overlooks the fact that we in the UK have a particular moral responsibility to protect these refugees who are crossing (and attempting to cross) the channel.
The UK has contributed to making the situation dangerous and intolerable for refugees in Northern France. We have invested millions in funding the CRS riot police in Calais and the surrounding region. The CRS use tactics of intimidation, harassment and violence against refugees. The CRS also roam the area and reportedly use beatings, pepper spray and tear gas in unprovoked attacks, often whilst refugees are sleeping in their makeshift shelters. The CRS have confiscate and destroy personal property such as phones, documentation and medication. These tactics create a hostile environment for refugees in the region, where their human rights are continually violated without protection.
In addition, the UK has not provided any safe and legal routes for refugees to escape these conditions and access asylum in the UK. Instead, we have invested millions of pounds in fences capped with barbed wire in the Calais region as well as building the 14-foot high concrete ‘Great Wall of Calais’ surrounding the port.
The UK has therefore contributed to making the situation in Northern France intolerable and unsafe for refugees, which compels journeys to seek adequate safety; and the UK, in securitising the border and denying safe and legal routes, has left refugees with no reasonable alternatives but to risk their lives on perilous journeys across the channel. The UK therefore has a particular moral responsibility to protect these refugees.
Furthermore, the simple truth is that these refugees are in urgent need of protection and are asking for our help. And, despite the hysteria, the numbers of refugees attempting to find safety in the UK represents a tiny minority. Around 4000 have attempted the journey this year. These numbers can be accommodated. And it is unreasonable to suggest that this figure is too large for the UK to accept when we expect less affluent and secure states in the Global South to host far greater numbers. Lebanon, for example, a country approximately the size of Wales, with a GDP fifty times smaller than the UK, hosts nearly one million refugees.
The UK is the sixth largest economy in the world, and has the capacity and resources to be able to offer hope, security and opportunities for refugees to rebuild their lives at little cost. It is difficult, if not impossible, to morally justify turning innocent refugees away to suffer harm and human rights violations when we could easily help them.
Therefore, an ethical response to the channel crossings would require the following. It would require the UK to stop creating a hostile and dangerous environment for refugees in Northern France. The UK should instead provide safe and legal routes for refugees to access asylum in the UK. Such safe and legal routes could be established by sending home office officials and immigration lawyers to carry out prima facie asylum eligibility assessments in the regions in northern France and then facilitating safe passage to the UK (as was done in October 2016 during the demolition of the Calais camp). These safe and legal routes would remove the incentive for dangerous and exploitative trafficking operations and prevent the life-threatening channel crossings. This ethical response is urgently required and it is our moral responsibility to provide it.
The above is adapted from a larger article published here in the Independent.
Note that there is a good article by Clementine Leaver on Liberal Democrat Voice here.
As our Q and A was cancelled by HQ, we have put some written questions to both leadership candidates, we now have answers from both candidates.
As always it is OK to share this mailing with others.
If you haven’t already voted, please make sure that you can find your ballot paper please do check your e-mails. It will have arrived on July 30th – 31st from Alan Masters.
Questions from LD4SOS to candidates
- How would you as leader work with the AOs and SAOs to make best use of their expertise and contacts to promote the party and its values, ideas and policies?
|The key thing with working with AOs and SAOs is building proper lines of communication between spokespeople and the relevant organisations. We have to ensure that we are taking advantage of the incredible expertise that we have across the party.
We are all on the same side, and if we can build that communication so that AOs and SAOs can be looped into our work in Parliament and vice versa then that will help us promote the incredible work that organisations like LD4SOS do.
|Throughout this campaign I’ve set out how I want to harness the fizz of our members’ ideas again, to build a progressive, liberal message that appeals to a broad base. Groups like Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary are an integral part of that vision.
This issue is central to our identity. So as we rejuvenate our party from the bottom up I’ll work with you to ensure our voice is informed by evidence and the experiences of those we’re fighting for. If we’re serious about building a society where no one is left behind we need to recognise the needs of refugees not just in our asylum policies but across the board, whether that’s housing, welfare or education.
I also want us to live our values and look like the communities we want to represent. So I’ll draw on your guidance to help ensure people who came to this country as refugees have a chance to participate at every level in our party.
- With 52,000 asylum seekers waiting for a decision on their claim to remain in the UK, many will be waiting for years rather than months for a decision. What would be your solution to this problem?
|Firstly, we have got to be honest that our asylum system needs more investment. I strongly believe it is an area worth investing in because our country should be proud of welcoming people who are fleeing war, poverty, persecution or natural disasters. That is a case I am ready to make as leader.
Furthermore, investing wisely will save public money in the long run. A huge proportion of asylum rejections end up being overturned on appeal, because of poor decision making or because people were not initially given the right assistance to navigate the system. Investing in better handling of cases and good quality legal support at an early stage will help us get things right first time, making the asylum process quicker, fairer and more cost-effective.
At the same time, we need to get better at supporting people who are waiting for a decision. I don’t know anyone who can reasonably live on £5.39 a day. And it is scandalous that asylum seekers are still banned from working. All the evidence shows that lifting the ban on work would help people to support themselves, integrate into their communities and contribute to our economy. I will make it a priority for our party and work with others to fight for it in parliament.
|There isn’t a single solution to this, but as LD4SOS have said themselves there are several steps you can take in order to speed up application processing. To just focus on one, if we provide better translation and interpretation services at each stage then we can hopefully make sure that the process is easier to follow, and delivers more correct decisions first time. This would also help to reduce the number of appeals which contribute to the backlog, and provide people with more certainty and less stress during the process. The Liberal Democrat Manifesto also calls for a dedicated unit for asylum decisions to improve speed and quality, and that is something I would push for.|
- How would you tackle the Home Office’s ‘culture of disbelief’ in respect of LGBT+ asylum seekers? And would you prioritise resettlement of LGBT+ asylum-seekers given that spaces such as refugee camps are often unsafe for them?
|I’ve talked before about how I want the Government to do more to help LGBT+ people fleeing persecution, and part of that is better training for staff who are dealing with more vulnerable groups. That falls into our wider call for a proper review and reform of asylum policy, that includes taking the responsibility away from the Home Office and giving more powers to other departments. We should also never refuse an application from an LGBT+ individual on the basis that they could be discreet.
In terms of reprioritisation, we should always look to make sure that we are protecting those who are most at risk from harm, whether that is LGBT+ or other groups.
|For years we have been fighting the government to improve treatment of LGBT+ asylum seekers, but they still are not tackling the culture of disbelief and we are actually seeing more claims being rejected.
The solution requires a complete overhaul of how we handle cases. Those making the decisions need to have really thorough training covering different cultures, identities and spectrums. They should be able to quickly draw on expertise from organisations with experience in these areas. A tick-box approach simply is not good enough, because how someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity is presented will vary hugely depending on the individual, their background and their circumstances. It is certainly unlikely to fit the narrow Western stereotypes we still see being used in the asylum system.
Perhaps most importantly though, we need to shift the burden of proof. The onus should be on our officials to understand the situation someone is fleeing from, rather than setting an impossibly high bar for them to prove their sexual orientation or gender identity and why they are in danger. I am not pretending this will be easy, but we cannot afford not to fix the system. It is staggering hypocrisy to fly the rainbow flag for our embassies around the world, while sending LGBT+ people back to countries where they’ll face persecution, violence or even death.
I completely agree that when it comes to resettling people directly from refugee camps, we should be prioritising those who are most at risk and this often includes LGBT+ people. We also need to be prioritising LGBT+ rights in our foreign policy, particularly concerning Commonwealth countries where the UK has an extra responsibility given the colonial-era laws that are still used to persecute people.
4. How would you promote our existing policies on asylum, and tackle any policy gaps that appear when new asylum-related issues appear, given that the media will expect an instant response from the leader?
|I am proud that our party champions the rights of refugees. While the Conservatives resort to dehumanising rhetoric in defence of their hostile environment and Labour simply remains silent, it is the Liberal Democrats who are passionately fighting on behalf of people seeking sanctuary here in the UK.
These values will underpin my leadership and shape our response to new issues as they arise. I will also make sure we listen to the experts – whether that is NGOs doing such amazing work to support people on the frontline or the UN Rapporteur who called out forced destitution in the UK’s asylum system. Again Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary will play an important role here.
I believe that our society is fundamentally welcoming and tolerant. It is not reflected by the xenophobic approach of this government. By working from the bottom up and engaging with local communities across the country, I am confident that we can win more people over and build support for humane asylum policies that give people a chance to thrive.
|I want to stand up for liberal, internationalist values that are the foundation of our party. As we have seen with the recent channel crossings, or the ‘no recourse to public funds’, these issues are continually present in our news agenda.
I’ve always been proud that our party has stood up for those internationalist values, all the way from Paddy Ashdown fighting for the rights of Hong Kongers to our recent campaign to Stop Brexit in order to save freedom of movement.
There are millions of people who share our view about having an open-hearted view of immigration, and I want those people to know that it is the Liberal Democrats who are the party for them.
- How would you as leader respond to the arrival of climate refugees in the UK?
|The climate emergency is one of the biggest global challenges we face and how we respond to the impact it will have on people forced out of their homes is a crucial part of tackling it.
There are two responses we need, the first is around the open, internationalist approach to refugees and asylum seekers that I have talked about and the second is our approach to tackling the climate emergency.
I want our Government to be a world leader on the climate emergency precisely because of the impact it will have on other issues. I want to invest £150bn in green technology in the UK, but I want the UK to also be making the case on the global stage, as we did when we had Liberal Democrats in Government. I am proud of the work I did at the UN and in Europe getting international agreement on climate issues, and it’s that level of ambition we need to have again if we are going to tackle the impacts climate change brings.
|We are already seeing a rapidly growing number of people forced to flee their homes by drought, disasters or conflict linked to the climate and nature emergencies. As a country we need to play our part in helping them.
Firstly, this means ensuring our asylum system is fit for purpose by dealing with the kind of issues I have outlined earlier. We need humane, efficient policies that will allow climate refugees to find sanctuary here and take part in our society, rather than facing a maze of bureaucracy and hostility like so many people do today.
Secondly, we need to work with our European neighbours and other international partners on establishing safe and legal routes for people to reach safety. The past few years have seen more people displaced than at any time since the Second World War. As this number continues to rise, we have to protect people from dangerous journeys or falling into the hands of traffickers.
Finally, I want us to tackle the causes of this displacement by increasing our aid budget from 0.7% to 1% of GDP , with the extra 0.3% ring fenced for spending on climate and the environment, while making our own society carbon negative by 2045.
6. Covid-19 has shown that releasing people does not lead to absconding and reduces mental ill health for the migrants and costs for taxpayers. How far would you go in reducing the use of immigration detention in this country and what would you put in its place?
|As a society we simply must do better than locking up people who have fled their homes to seek sanctuary here. Immigration detention not only causes serious and long-lasting harm to those who have their liberty taken away, detention centres also have a really negative impact on the surrounding communities which have to live in their shadow.
I successfully fought to close down Campsfield House in my constituency and as leader I’d fight to end immigration detention for good. We have seen more than ever during the pandemic how people can be safely and easily released into the community. And there is an abundance of evidence that continuing to warehouse people in prison-like conditions is not only cruel but also an incredible waste of money.
Investing in community case-management means that people can receive better and more cost-effective support while they are waiting for a decision. There are lots of different models which we should be open to exploring, but it’s painfully clear that the current approach just isn’t working and as a party we should be ambitious about ending it.
|I am absolutely clear that detention should be a last resort, and should not be used on vulnerable people including survivors of torture and victims of trafficking. It is inhumane to detain people for months on end without them knowing how long they will be there.
I want to see a 28-day limit on detention, with a requirement for a judge to approve detention of longer than 72 hours. That would help to reduce the financial burden from the detention, as well as the compensation claims from wrongful detention as well.
- How would you maximise the opportunity the pandemic has given us to create a more open and tolerant society which welcomes people from overseas for the contribution they can make to Britain?
|This is an excellent question, because I think Covid has shown just how reliant we are on the contribution that people from overseas make to so much of society. Even if you just look at our NHS and social care system, foreign workers are the backbone of the system that has saved so many lives in this pandemic, and we have to do more to recognise that.
I think the first stage is making sure that we are the party who are fighting for a better deal for the people working in those sectors, including from overseas. That is what sits behind my plan for a new deal for carers, so that we can properly value and reward the work they do.
I will always make the case for the positive impact that immigration has had on enriching our country, and on promoting our liberal belief that immigration is a good thing.
|Most of us recognise that every single part of our society is strengthened by people who have come from all over the world to make this country their home.
That has never been clearer than during the past few months. So many of our frontline workers and medics come from overseas and too many of them paid the ultimate price. As chair of the cross-party inquiry into coronavirus I’m committed to ensuring their contribution and sacrifice is properly acknowledged.
Now is the moment to push our bold liberal vision and progressive policies locally and nationally, from welcoming more refugees at council level, to opposing Boris Johnson’s regressive Immigration Bill in Parliament.
We can’t afford to be complacent. Because already we’re seeing fresh attempts to create stigma and division, whether it’s the Tories insultingly branding heroic key workers “low skilled migrants” or Nigel Farage disgracefully calling the tiny number of desperate refugees crossing the English Channel an “invasion”. As leader I will make sure our party is at the forefront of fighting back against this appalling rhetoric and calling out disinformation.
As we do this I want to involve more members from migrant or refugee backgrounds at every level in our party. We also need to be ambitious in areas like the right to work, English language provision, and community sponsorship so that more communities have the opportunity to engage with migrants and refugees, and understand the phenomenal contribution they make.
- In order to make the UK treatment of asylum seekers and refugees more humane would you give priority to cross party collaboration to make this happen? If so, how would you go about this?
|We need to work better and closer with other progressive politicians, particularly in areas like this.
When we were debating the Immigration Bill I put my name to an amendment on ending indefinite detention with MPs from across the house, including some Conservatives who agreed that the current law is ineffective and inhumane.
Similarly, I worked with MPs from different parties in bringing Greta Thunberg to Parliament and holding the government to account over the climate emergency, including how it is displacing people from their homes.
Local politics has a really important role here too, especially around things like resettlement opportunities and support for unaccompanied children. So as leader I’ll support cross-party cooperation to support refugees at all levels of politics.
However, it is essential that we never compromise our values. The Liberal Democrats have consistently stood out in British politics as a progressive voice in support of refugees, while other parties have failed. I am proud of that record and want us to strengthen it under my leadership.
|I will always be willing to work on a cross-party basis to deliver a fairer, more humane immigration system. However, often it is the Liberal Democrats who have ploughed a lone furrow in making the positive case for immigration against Labour and Tory parties that have been more interested in sounding tough on rhetoric than delivering meaningful change.
I will continue to make our case, and if others wish to work with us to push forward that agenda then I would be happy to work with them as I always have done on issues where we can agree.
People TraffickingHere is our policy document on “people trafficking and modern slavery”, compiled from party policy by LD4SOS and Lib Dem Immigrants.
The issues are a present scourge of our times, and whilst all are rightly condemning slavery from past times, we need to be more aware and act on what is happening right now, in our communities in the UK.
Please do use it as a source of reference for any related media or social media work. It will be able to be accessed and stored under our Documents section at https://libdemfocus.co.uk/ld4sos/archives/1849
second LD4SOS June 2020 newsletter A lot happening! so here is important updated news that needs to be sent out now.