29th April 2021

‘Women asylum seekers are entitled to have their rights under the Convention respected; they are to be treated in a non-discriminatory manner and with respect and dignity at all times during the asylum procedure and thereafter' - CEDAW 

At Refugee Women Connect, we have grave concerns about the Government’s proposed 'New Plan for Immigration' which is likely to cause additional hardship and suffering to women and gender non-conforming people seeking asylum in the UK. Urgent reform of the asylum system is needed but the New Plan doubles down on the efforts of previous governments to create a system that is needlessly hostile and harmful to people needing refuge. The New Plan is simply an escalation of the hostile environment, not a move towards a ‘compassionate’ or ‘people first’ approach.

In a crisis, displaced women are more likely to go without resources and face additional vulnerabilities to displaced men. These include higher rates of sexual and gender-based violence, extreme poverty, social isolation and exploitation. Women may have less power in decision making, meaning their needs in various contexts go unmet. This is exacerbated without the safety net of statutory rights, entitlements and status. That’s why Refugee Women Connect call on the Government to reconsider aspects of the new plan and build in safeguards to ensure gendered harm is mitigated in all areas of the asylum system and that access to protection is safe and humane for all.

Our objections include the following concerns;

No human is illegal

The 1951 Refugee Convention, which is enshrined in UK law, explicitly states that signatory countries must not impose penalties on those seeking asylum who enter a country through unauthorised or irregular routes (Article 31). Neither does it compel asylum seekers to seek asylum in the first safe country they enter. The New Plan makes reference to ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ routes throughout- steeping the plan in the language of criminality, invasion and sovereignty as opposed to one of humanitarian relief. Aside from being misleading and incendiary, this language serves to further dehumanise a population who already face disbelief and deep structural violence in the asylum system. Many who pay smugglers do so because no other safe options are available to them but their criminalisation only serves to increase their risk of exploitation. Traffickers use these same routes meaning those trafficked have no say in their mode of entry but are still penalised. Women and others with a legitimate claim for refugee status will be wrongfully refused or denied the opportunity for family reunification, increasing vulnerability both within the UK and the risk of being returned to dangerous situations.

Stop the One Stop process

The proposed One Stop process requiring all protection related issues to be raised up front will have a profound effect on women, gender non-conforming and LGBTQI populations who will be compelled to recount traumatic events as evidence early in the asylum claim or risk having ‘minimal weight’ given to disclosures made at a later date.  The evidence gathered in screening and substantive interviews is already a distressing process, where women have reported disbelief, insensitivity and aggressive interview techniques over the course of many hours leaving them scared and traumatised. The process of disclosing violence is complex and compounded by psychological trauma, memory loss, shame, mistrust of authorities, and the absence of psychological or social support (Canning, 2019). Survivors of trafficking or modern slavery can currently access support via the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) which is likely to be reduced if the threshold for reasonable grounds is raised.  Reducing appeals processes and fresh claims will result  in important changes in circumstances in home countries or in the UK (such as honour-based threats or exploitation) not being taken into account. Our fear is that this policy will increase suffering in the system and lead to many legitimate claims for asylum being rejected.

Dangers of a life in limbo

Life in the asylum system often involves years spent in limbo with applicants forced into destitution without the right to work, access further education or a choice of where to live. Many asylum seekers report feeling so broken by their time in the system that they struggle to re-enter society when refugee status is eventually granted and face an uphill struggle to pull themselves and their families out of toxic cycles of deprivation and poor mental health. The introduction of Temporary Protection Status for those deemed to arrive through irregular routes reduces access to welfare rights and entitlements and family reunification. This will be particularly hard on women and more vulnerable groups for whom the risk of exploitation and gender-based violence is increased due to deprivation. Exclusion from public support includes the safety net of benefits, domestic abuse support and other support services for those facing danger or who are unable to work. This policy is set up to fail the most vulnerable in our society.

As the New Plan passes through parliament into law, we will be lobbying for the following actions;

  • A change in hostile rhetoric and the criminalisation/penalisation of asylum seekers entering through irregular routes.
  • To put in place robust measures to ensure survivors of violence have the time and support to give evidence in support of their claim without penalty.
  • A change to the culture of aggressive disbelief including proposed strengthening of the Reasonable Grounds threshold and the ‘good faith’ requirement.
  • Withdraw all plans relating to reception centres and strengthen standards for safe, appropriate housing including women-only and LGBTQI accommodation.
  • Provide more detail on new schemes and publish targets for safe routes to resettlement.
  • Increase access to legal advice and legal aid so asylum seekers are able to better navigate the complexities of the asylum system under good advice.
  • Reform the NRM referral process to increase the number of first responders with a focus on informed consent and integrated legal advice.
  • Extend commitment to increase access to work for refugees to welcome all displaced people to employment without restriction.
  • Expand family reunion routes to all people with a legitimate claim to asylum, regardless of mode of entry.

Consultation on the Government’s New Plan for Immigration closes on 6th May at 23:45. 

DOWNLOAD OUR RESPONSE

RESPOND TO THE CONSULTATION HERE

For more information and guidance, Asylum Matters have put together this very comprehensive guide.

For support in filling out the consultation, or for comments, contact:

Pip McKnight, Head of Advocacy and Policy - [email protected]

Hira Aftab, Communications Officer - [email protected]