Letter to the Home Secretary on the Government's New Plan for Immigration

Following the Government’s announcement of its New Plan for Immigration, Cllr John Cotton, Cabinet Member for Social Inclusion, Community Safety and Equalities shares this open letter to the Home Secretary.

Dear Home Secretary,

Birmingham is a city built on migration and a historic place of sanctuary. We welcome people who are fleeing war and persecution and offer them safety and support to rebuild their lives and become part of the city’s rich fabric. Our City of Sanctuary policy statement proudly welcomes refugees, those seeking asylum, and migrants, and aims to support them not just to survive, but to thrive in Birmingham and contribute to their new communities. Therefore, we strongly disagree with the Government’s New Plan for Immigration and the negative changes it proposes to an already failing asylum system.

My colleagues and I have repeatedly communicated Birmingham’s deep dissatisfaction with the current asylum system, which is clearly unfit for purpose and fails to respect the needs of vulnerable asylum seekers or properly support the communities who seek to welcome them. However, it is clear that the proposals set out in the New Plan for Immigration will not fix this broken system. Instead, they will make matters much worse.

The UNHCR, the UN’s Refugee Agency, has stated that the New Plan for Immigration is "a discriminatory two-tiered approach to asylum", and overall, the “UNHCR finds that many aspects of the New Plan for Immigration do not respect fundamental principles of refugee law and threaten to undermine global refugee co-operation.” [1] The UK should be part of a global effort to deal with the worldwide refugee crisis and should be collaborating to solve international tragedy, not reneging on the UN Refugee Convention.

The Government’s consultation on the plan was also unfeasible, and specialists in the field of migration have all publicly condemned both the consultation and the New Plan, as set out in this joint public statement from Refugee Action.

The Government’s efforts to create a hostile environment towards many migrants in the UK are now being amplified by demonising not only irregular migration, but also people seeking asylum. The New Plan will create a confused and unequal tiered asylum system that invents ‘good’ refugees, and ‘bad’ refugees, even though people could be fleeing the same persecution and wars. In 2019, Home Office refusals made up under half of all asylum decisions made[2]. Therefore, it is clear that those seeking protection through this route are, including through the eyes of the Home Office, valid and rightful refugees. This attempt to equate the way someone claims protection with the validity of their claim is not only unfounded and irrational, but is also misleading to the British public who would assume that there is an evidence base for this approach. Our shared human values of kindness and welcome are absent from the New Plan, which also lacks coherence and sense. It will not benefit the UK or provide the real support that people seeking refuge so desperately need.

Birmingham City Council is also a member of the City of Sanctuary Local Authority Network and our concerns are shared by many other local authorities. The Network’s full response to the New Plan for Immigration can be read online.

Together with our partner organisations in Birmingham who support asylum seekers and refugees, we are asking that you and your colleagues abandon the New Plan for Immigration and instead, seek guidance and support from people with lived experience, and the professional organisations that support them, to create a genuinely fair and humane UK asylum system. It is clear that this is the only path to building an approach to asylum that will benefit people seeking sanctuary and the wider communities of Birmingham and Britain as a whole.

This blog was posted on 18 October 2021.

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