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2022: A horrible year for refugee rights. What’s next?

2022: A horrible year. What’s next?

2022 was the year in which everything changed and yet everything stayed the same.

Priti Patel began the year as Home Secretary. Suella Braverman finished the year in that post. And Grant Shapps made a short appearance interrupting Braverman’s tenure for a few days in October.

None of this made the slightest difference to the policies being pursued. 

At the start of the year, as had been the case for the previous three, Home Office policy remained centred on ‘stopping the boats’. And just as in those previous years, this ambition was not achieved.

So, what did the Government achieve in 2022?

In April, it passed new laws to allow it to break its and the country’s obligations under the Refugee Convention.

Those laws also enable it to add even more delays to the asylum system. Delays in getting to the point when any decision is made on someone’s asylum claim. Delays to when anyone recognised to be a refugee may ever continue their stay in the UK without being required to make repeated applications to the Home Office for permission to do so.

That same month, the Government made a deal to cast off its asylum responsibilities by expelling people seeking asylum to a country – Rwanda – with a shocking record of human rights abuses, suppressing criticism and scrutiny, and involvement in regional conflict. 

In November, it made yet another deal with France – more money for more policing. But once again, this included nothing to address the appalling conditions suffered by many people in northern France or their desire to seek asylum in the UK where many have family and other connections.

And in December, the Government secured a partial victory in the High Court. The court ruled that UK law permitted the Government, in principle, to expel people to Rwanda. This decision is under appeal.

In practice, however, the court blocked the expulsion of specific individuals because the way in which the Home Office had made its decision to expel each person to Rwanda was not lawful. 

And what was the impact of all this?

It did not ‘stop the boats’. 2022 saw more people seeking asylum arrive by that particular route than in previous years.

And that was not all that there was more of in 2022.

2022 saw more people die in asylum accommodation. It saw more unaccompanied children seeking asylum in the UK go missing, possibly lured or snatched by human traffickers.

It witnessed more people effectively imprisoned in grossly unsuitable, overcrowded, and unsanitary conditions at Manston reception centre – including the outbreak of another deadly disease; this time it was diphtheria.

Meanwhile, the extraordinary backlog of asylum claims at the Home Office continued its rapid rise – leaving thousands of people in limbo, many of whom remain menaced by the threat of being expelled to Rwanda simply for having sought asylum in the UK.

People held in another Home Office reception centre were attacked with firebombs.

And the dangers of the boat crossings were once again emphasised by a tragedy at sea in which several people lost their lives.

And what of political leadership?

The more 2022 exposed just how disastrous and damaging is the Government’s asylum policy, the more ministers doubled down on both the policy and their hostile rhetoric in support of it.

Suella Braverman went so far as to describe people seeking asylum as ‘invaders’. And she did so only the day after such people had been victims of the firebomb attack at Dover Western Jet Foil.

This was less than a month after she had shared her ‘dream’ of seeing flights to Rwanda carrying people who have asked the UK for sanctuary.

Her immigration minister began the new year with a promotional video posted on social media by the Home Office spreading fear about people of Albanian nationality. That led directly to a formal diplomatic complaint

Will 2023 bring anything better?

The appalling reality is there is nothing to suggest that it will.

The Prime Minister has also now pledged to ‘stop the boats’. He and the Home Secretary are promising more legislation to do so.

Their ambition remains to deter people seeking asylum in the UK by punishing and refusing asylum to anyone who does. 

Ministers continue to pursue this at whatever the cost – to human life and welfare, social harmony, or the public purse. And human traffickers and other abusers thrive.

Unless and until our political leaders radically change tack and focus their efforts on accepting and managing this county’s asylum responsibilities, clearly recognising and respecting the humanity of the people who seek asylum, none of this will change.

The Government has wilfully broken the UK’s asylum system. Simply accelerating that demolition cannot and will not fix anything.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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