Immigration is a sensitive topic in the United Kingdom. Politicians and the media often lump together refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants. Attitudes vary depending on where you sit in the political spectrum, but the overall attitude to immigration is clear. Britain may be open for business, but it is only open to people perceived as useful. Opinion differs as to what “being useful” actually means. While everybody fundamentally agrees on the need to control economic migrants, there is a broad spectrum of views concerning refugees and asylum seekers. In the last four months of 2021, the conversation has been dominated by images of people crossing the channel in dinghies, often losing their lives in the process.
There are four bills about Asylum Seekers discussed in the House of Commons. One bill concerns the process of evicting asylum seekers from a property. It is meant to regulate the eviction process giving more protection to asylum seekers who legally occupy the property. Two bills are about permission to work for asylum seekers whose case has not been heard for six months. The fourth bill is a bill to “Require asylum seekers who have arrived in the United Kingdom from a safe country to be immediately returned to that country.”
Although these bills were introduced months ago (the safe country bill was presented at the beginning of September 2021), it is crucial for a country trying to cope with people crossing the Channel in dinghies daily.
According to the “Return to Safe Country” bill, an asylum seeker coming from a country on the list of Safe Countries could be sent to that country or any other country on the safe list, i.e., countries deemed safe. The list of safe countries is included in a bill passed in 2004 and updated several times.
The bill is at the second reading in Parliament. If the bull had received Royal Consent, all those who crossed the channel in dinghies and tried to claim asylum could be sent back to France, something that would most definitely not please the French. That means that refugees applying for asylum must arrive in the UK from an unsafe country by plane or boat (not a dinghy, a ship that has sailed from an unsafe country) without passing through any other country, even if they never meant to stay. If they entered this third safe country, legally or illegally, they should have applied for asylum there. When you transit through an airport (without going through passport control) or when a ship is at an intermediate port, and you do not go ashore, you have not entered that country. Flying and boarding a boat from an unsafe country are the only two ways to arrive in the UK without transiting through a safe country.
The four bills being discussed in the House of Commons aim to improve the situation of Asylum Seekers in the country and make it possible to refuse entry to those who have used “stepping stones” to reach the United Kingdom. Given the geography of the British Isles, all the likely “stepping stones” are safe countries. Once the “Return to Safe Country” bill is passed, asylum seekers could be sent back to the last country they came from. It remains to be seen what the neighbouring countries will have to say about it.