LEICESTER, United Kingdom – The head of the UK’s Jesuit Refugee Service accused a member of the British cabinet of “prejudging” asylum claims after he said the government would “do everything we can” to keep asylum seekers crossing the English Channel from successfully claiming sanctuary.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid made his remarks to reporters on Jan. 2 in the English city of Dover. The Home Office is the British government department in charge of law enforcement and immigration.
Since November, nearly 240 people have been caught crossing the Channel to seek asylum in Britain, causing Javid to question why they did not seek asylum in other European countries they had passed through.
“You are coming from France, which is a safe country. In almost every case you are claiming asylum in the UK but if you were a real, genuine asylum seeker then you could have done that in another safe country,” he said.
“We need to send a strong message that these gangs preying on you and selling you a false prospectus will not succeed,” Javid continued. “If you somehow do make it to the UK, we will do everything we can to make sure you are ultimately not successful because we need to break the link.”
Sarah Teather, Director of Jesuit Refugee Service UK, said the Home Minister’s comments are “likely to have disturbing implications for the fairness and credibility of the UK asylum determination system as a whole.”
“The comments made by the Home Secretary today amount to the government pre-judging an individual’s claim for sanctuary, something to which every individual has a legal right,” she said.
“A person’s asylum application must always be assessed and determined on its individual merit, regardless of how the individual arrived in the country not be pre-determined ahead of their claim being heard, as implied by Mr. Javid,” Teather said.
“Somewhere in all this we seem to have forgotten that those men women and children making the treacherous journey across the Channel are our fellow human beings who are in need of our care, support and compassion,” she added.
On Monday, Javid increased patrols along the English coast to stop further boats from landing.
According to the opposition Labour Party, the crisis is being used by the ruling Conservative Party to whip up anti-immigration sentiment ahead of this month’s vote in Parliament on Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal for Brexit, which might not pass.
“There’s no question that, with Brexit and also with the approach of the meaningful vote in January, people are being whipped up about migration issues, because the government thinks this is the best way of frightening people to vote for their deal,” Diane Abbot – Labour’s shadow home secretary – told the Guardian.
The Home Office has come under fire for its hardline stance against illegal immigration, and Javid’s predecessor Amber Rudd resigned over the “Windrush Scandal” – when the government mistakenly attempted to deport numerous post-World War II immigrants from then-British colonies.
Teather noted Javid came into Home Office with a promise to change the attitude at the government department and lamented the “tendency of senior politicians to whip up mistrust against the small number of men, women and children seeking sanctuary in the UK.”
“It is especially disappointing to see a Home Secretary, who initially expressed high ideals about changing the culture of the Home Office, resort so quickly to the standard fare of inflammatory rhetoric that stokes fears and prejudices and results in a system which views all migrants with the hermeneutic of suspicion,” she said.