Yesterday the queen delivered her state opening of Parliament speech and confirmed that the government will be advancing its ‘New Plan for Immigration‘. It is couched in the language of making the asylum and immigration system more “fair”. In reality, the new legislation doubles down on the ‘hostile environment’ approach to migration that the Conservatives have been pursuing for years.
New immigration policies have been designed to satisfy tabloid readers, not to deliver justice or safety for refugees. There are plans for a two-tier asylum system that would leave people in limbo. The government has also consulted on overseas processing, holding people in far-flung destinations such as Ascension Island while the paperwork is done. This is copying the ‘Australian model’ in the full knowledge that these offshore facilities tend to be hellholes of human rights abuse and misery.
These shameful plans may not even be legal. The Law Society says the new proposals will “undermine access to justice and the rule of law.” Amnesty calls offshore processing “utterly reckless”. The UNHCR warns that “proposals by the UK to overhaul its asylum system risk breaching international legal commitments, undermining global refugee cooperation and triggering damaging effects on asylum-seekers who arrive irregularly.”
So here’s a perennial reminder that Britain is far from the front lines of the global refugee crisis.
Despite the impression created by images of boats in the Channel, the vast majority of refugees flee no further than the safety of a neighbouring country. It’s why so many of the top refugee destination countries are right next to the countries that refugees come from. People from Afghanistan are in Pakistan, Sudanese refugees move south and find safety in Uganda. Colombia has 1.8 million displaced people from Venezuela. The country hosting the most refugees at the moment is Turkey, which is next door to Syria.
Globally, 85% of refugees are hosted by developing countries, with far fewer resources than we have in Britain. Uganda hosts ten times the number of refugees that Britain does (133,400 in 2019) with a fraction of the budget to support them.
We have no reason to be so afraid. The Conservative government is not responding to an actual crisis, but a manufactured hysteria.
For evidence of how different our approach could be, we don’t have to look any further than Wales. The approach of the Welsh government is the polar opposite, declaring Wales to be a ‘Nation of Sanctuary’ and a place that prides itself in welcoming people in need. Their national plan and its “person-centric” approach has the full backing of the UNHRC. A dedicated website created for refugees is translated into dozens of languages and explicitly states that “people seeking sanctuary are welcome in Wales.”
The UK as a whole, with its very moderate intake of refugees and with no shortage of wealth, could be far more welcoming and generous to refugees than it is. A positive view of refugees is not a guaranteed vote-losing strategy, as Labour in Wales just proved by winning another term last week. A lot of groundwork has gone into Wales’ approach, so it’s not an overnight switch – but it’s a very clear demonstration that alternative views of refugees and asylum are possible.
The Conservatives are making us into a paranoid and insular nation, and they are doing so for their own electoral gain. This should be resisted – like Wales is already doing. “Inclusion is rooted within our values and Welsh society” they say, speaking with a confidence entirely absent from Westminster politics. “It is something we as a nation believe in and strive for. We are committed to make Wales a true nation of sanctuary.”