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The Government's queue-less policy

To understand the true impact of Government asylum policy – and the absurdity of some things that are said in support of it – it is necessary to understand how a claim for asylum in the UK can and cannot be made.

And much of that absurdity centres on a stereotypical British fascination with queues…

The general position

If you’re escaping persecution and want to seek asylum in the UK – including if you have family, speak English or have some other connection here – the queue you must join starts in and it is only in the UK.

That queue is long and slow. Government policy has made that so – particularly by its policy to refuse or delay simply getting on with deciding the claims of people who have joined it.

Backlogs are now huge. A debilitating life of limbo is the experience for thousands of people. This is despite the UK continuing to receive a relatively modest number of people seeking asylum compared to many countries in Europe and elsewhere.

Longstanding Home Office policy

It is longstanding Government policy that the queue cannot be joined before or without getting to the UK. No asylum claim can be made unless the person is physically here. The policy since September 2011 expressly states:

The policy guidance on discretionary referral to the UK Border Agency of applications for asylum by individuals in a third country who have not been recognised as refugees by another country or by UNHCR under its mandate, has been withdrawn. No applications will be considered by a UK visa-issuing post or by the UK Border Agency pending a review of the policy and guidance.

(That underlining is included for emphasis. It does not appear in the policy document.)

Strictly speaking, the UK Border Agency has ceased to exist. Theresa May formally took immigration and asylum functions back into the Home Office in 2013 – though that change was largely superficial.

Nonetheless, as the policy makes clear (particularly the underlined words), even the previous discretion that might have been exercised to receive an asylum claim was removed years ago. No asylum claims can be made from outside the UK.

Policy now made law

Last year, the Government made this policy into law. The Nationality and Borders Act 2022 states:

An asylum claim must be made at a designated place. A ‘designated place’ means any of the following places in the United Kingdom

(Again, the underlining is for emphasis. It does not appear in the Act.)

The point is (as the underlined words make clear) that all the places where any asylum claim can be made are here in the UK.

No other queue will do

People are, of course, free to join queues at any of the various British overseas posts around the world or online from wherever they may be in the world.

But if someone does and it’s an asylum claim they want to make, the person will find the answer’s the same – no asylum claim can be made in that queue. Either they will be summarily ejected from the queue or, should they ever get to its front, simply be told their time (and money) has been wasted.

The Home Secretary’s shameless response before the Home Affairs Committee

This is part of the reason the Home Secretary made such an embarrassment of herself before the Home Affairs Committee last November when asked by a Conservative party colleague how a refugee with family in the UK could seek asylum here.

The other part – putting to one side her unwillingness to simply tell the truth about her (and her predecessors’) asylum policy and its impact – is that her (as their) rules require people seeking asylum to travel by a visa, which those same rules refuse to anyone seeking asylum.

In effect, the Home Secretary – who exhibits clear hostility to refugees – maintains rules for anyone fleeing persecution that mean it’s ‘heads she wins, tails you lose’.

In summary…

The asylum queue is all in the UK. To join it, you have to get here. To seek asylum here, there’s no way to avoid having to first to get here. You cannot jump the queue. And you can’t avoid it  – unless you avoid seeking asylum altogether.

Getting to that queue however… That’s a whole other story – almost certainly requiring you to rely on one or more smugglers, endure serious hardships and put your life in real danger.

And, as thousands of people have found, even getting into the Government’s queue provides no guarantee about when, if ever, you will be permitted to get to the front.