LEICESTER, United Kingdom — Refugees and asylum seekers in the United Kingdom say they are “not seen, heard, or recognized,” according to a new report published by the Jesuit Refugee Service.
Being Human in the Asylum System was launched on April 17 and calls for a re-orientation of Britain’s approach to people seeking asylum in the country.
The report says the UK’s asylum system is “unjust and dehumanizing” and that the decision-making process was “not grounded in a desire to protect refugees.”
“Put simply, we are failing to respond to people seeking sanctuary as human persons; human beings in need, and human beings with hopes and dreams, loves and sorrows,” the report says.
“People described feeling powerless before a system that did not communicate with them. The refusal to acknowledge people as self-determining agents was dehumanizing. People explained that often it was the indignity of the process, as much as the final outcome, that leads to a long-term sense of injustice,” it says.
In a joint statement, Sarah Teather, the Director of Jesuit Refugee Service UK, and Raymond Friel, the Director of Caritas Social Action Network, said the report draws on years of listening to those in the asylum system.
“Too often, people seeking sanctuary are faced with deep suspicion and dehumanized by the asylum process. Pope Francis instead calls us to welcome, protect, promote and integrate migrants and refugees,” they said.
“This challenges us as a society to think about how we respond to those in need. It challenges us to build a society that truly extends protection to refugees and gives them a chance to rebuild their lives at the at the heart of our communities. This challenge is especially urgent as the government proposes an overhaul of the asylum system that risks creating higher and higher barriers to protection,” their statement continued.
Last month, the British Home Secretary, Priti Patel, said her office plans to remove asylum seekers who arrived illegally in the UK through so-called “safe” third countries, usually France. At the same time, she said the UK plans to expand “safe and legal” options for asylum seekers to reach the country.
The Home Office is the UK government branch that oversees security and immigration issues.
Patel said the move was to combat human traffickers who illegally transport asylum seekers over the English Channel, often in unsafe boats.
Migrant Voice, a UK advocacy group, said Patel’s proposals create a two-tier system “that punishes those who manage to find their own route to safety and condemns them to a life in limbo with restricted rights.”
The Being Human report states the proposed changes to the UK’s asylum system “explicitly start from a hermeneutic of suspicion and declare an intention of denying refugees sanctuary wherever possible.”
The report makes several recommendations to “reorient” the system, including creating a focus on protection, respect for human dignity, and rejection of the culture of refusal and disbelief; centrally involving those with experience of the asylum system in asylum reform plans; and ensuring people recognized as needing sanctuary can easily settle in the UK.
In addition, the report recommends changes be made so that asylum seekers can live with dignity while their applications are processed, including allowing asylum seekers to work, ensuring they have “safe and dignified” accommodation in the community, and ensuring they have the means to meet their basic needs.
The report also calls on the Conservative government to abandon its “hostile environment” policy, which aims to make life difficult for undocumented immigrants in the country.
“The hostile environment fosters cruelty and division within society. Ending the hostile environment agenda involves ending data-sharing between the Home Office and other government bodies, public bodies, and private individuals; and lifting restrictions on access to public funds on the basis of immigration status,” the report says.
“Specifically, the [National Health Service] charging regime should urgently be abandoned, to ensure that everyone can access healthcare, something which has taken on even greater importance during the COVID-19 pandemic. Enabling those without immigration status to trust police and government bodies is crucial to combatting modern slavery and trafficking,” it continues.
Finally, the report calls for the end of the use of detention for the purpose of immigration control, calling it “harmful and unjust.”
It says the government and Home Office should adopt an alternative system that is proportionate, accountable, and respects the dignity and right to liberty of those subject to immigration control.
However, for as long as immigration detention exists, the Being Human report says a mandatory and short time limit of 28 days should be in place for all those detained under immigration powers, and the decision to detain should always go before a judge.
Bishop Paul McAleenan, the head of the Migrants and Refugees desk of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said the new report “is a timely reminder that refugees are not a political problem to be solved, but people with dignity who deserve our respect and protection.”
“This report is not only rooted in Catholic Social Teaching but was informed by truly listening to the voices of refugees about their unique experiences, something that we all need to do much more,” he said.
“Driven by the principle that ‘we are not being called to share magnanimously what is ours, but to share what belongs in justice, for our common dignity’ the report is uncompromising. Justice cannot be compromised, people’s welfare must be prioritized,” McAleenan continued.
“Therefore, I hope that this report will be seriously considered by policy makers and will contribute towards building an asylum system that puts people at the center,” he concluded.
The British government says 35,099 people made asylum applications in UK from March 2019 to March 2020, well below the numbers in large EU countries such as Germany, Spain, France, and Italy.
According to the Migration Observatory at Oxford University, an estimated 388,000 foreign-born people living in the UK in 2019 originally came to the UK to seek asylum. The Observatory says this is equivalent to 0.6 percent of the UK’s total 2019 resident population of around 67 million, with 56 percent of the asylum seekers having lived in the UK for sixteen years or more.
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