NGOs urge Keir Starmer to reform asylum policies

NGOs urge Keir Starmer to reform asylum policies
credit: bbc

London (Parliament News) – Hundreds of refugee and human rights NGOs have penned to Keir Starmer with a blueprint for an asylum approach which urges him to alter course from the policies of the previous government.

The letter, which includes signatories from 300 civil society associations along with 534 individuals operating with migrants, expresses the existing policy is “fundamentally broken”.

It outlined nine key directions, which if adopted by the Labour government would signal a shift of direction on one of the most contentious and high-profile approach areas of the last government.

What Changes Do Refugee Groups Seek in UK Asylum Laws?

The letter says: “We are writing to you as grassroots organisations and individuals grounded firmly in our societies across the UK. We are proud to welcome people seeking safety. For years, we have footed in to support people who have been targeted and brutalised by aggressive policies. We are now calling on your government to take a new direction: protecting people pursuing safety, rather than punishing them for political gain.”

Why Are NGOs Criticizing Current Asylum Policies to Starmer?

It said: “Successive pieces of unworkable, hateful legislation have effectively extinguished the right to pursue asylum in the UK, creating an ever-growing ‘perma-backlog’ of tens of thousands of people. Some are being re-traumatised in unobstructed prison camps on barracks or barges.

“Others are stranded in overcrowded hostels with their mental health declining whilst they are excluded from finding employment. And Channel fatalities are at unimaginable levels, with a 450% increase in deaths at our border in the past 12 months.”

Signatories contain the Refugee Council, Refugee Action, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and branches of Citizens Advice.

What Are the Key Demands from Refugee NGOs to Starmer?

Restore the privilege to seek asylum in the UK in line with international law, by abolishing the Illegal Migration Act and the Nationality and Borders Act. Open safe routes for people pursuing asylum to reach the UK so that people are not compelled to risk their lives in the Channel, including delivering visa routes, enabling families to reunite safely, and reconstructing refugee resettlement.

House people aspiring asylum in communities, not centres, and close down all institutional capacities including barracks, barges, hotels and hostels, which generate unnecessary lasting damage at an eye-watering cost to the taxpayer. Restore the freedom to work for people pursuing asylum within six months of arrival so people can reconstruct their lives in dignity and assist £1.2bn to the UK economy.

Sarah Wilson, head of Penrith and Eden Refugee Network (PERN) stated: ‘‘Refugees have always been characteristic of the UK and we ask our new administration to rebuild this tradition. For too long, PERN has protected lives destroyed and talent lost because of the adversarial environment. This makes no sense. It is time for a shift in how we treat those who seek sanctuary in the UK.”

Duncan McAuley, the chief executive of Action Foundation, stated: “There’s an acute need for a sensible, humane method to people coming here to pursue safety. We hope Labour will improve our broken asylum system and place an end to the demonisation of people pushed to make dangerous travels because there are no safe routes.” 

A Home Office spokesperson stated: “The government has decided to restore order to the asylum system so that it works swiftly, firmly, and fairly, and assures that the rules are properly enforced.”

Beth Malcolm

Beth Malcolm is Scottish based Journalist at Heriot-Watt University studying French and British Sign Language. She is originally from the north west of England but is living in Edinburgh to complete her studies.