Sheffield asylum groups condemn Home Secretary’s ‘inhumane’ immigration plan

City of Sanctuary Sheffield helps asylum seekers and refugees resettle while providing them support and information.City of Sanctuary Sheffield helps asylum seekers and refugees resettle while providing them support and information.
City of Sanctuary Sheffield helps asylum seekers and refugees resettle while providing them support and information.
New plans for immigration ‘undermine Sheffield’s proud status as the first City of Sanctuary’, say local leaders in a blistering attack today.

The New Plan for Immigration is in a consultation period and would allow the Home Office to remove asylum seekers while their claim or appeal is pending, whilst withdrawing support offered during the pandemic.

The consultation for the plan will close on May 6, and the website states that it would allow the Government “to remove more easily from the UK those with no right to be here.”

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The Home Secretary Priti Patel also says the plan would increase the ‘fairness’ and ‘efficacy’ of the system – while deterring illegal entry to the UK.

Now, however, leaders of Sheffield’s asylum organisations have written a letter to the city’s MPs calling for them to oppose this ‘inhumane’ and ‘unworkable’ proposal.

The letter argues that the plan gives a distorted analysis of the present situation and proposes measures which would ‘rip up the human rights to refuge in the UK’ and would also ‘undermine Sheffield’s proud status as the first City of Sanctuary.’

The letter states that the proposal “condemns ‘illegal’ asylum seekers for failing to come here by ‘safe and legal routes’ without admitting that it is UK legislation that has blocked off safe and legal routes.”

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Signed by the director of City of Sanctuary Sheffield, members of ASSIST, and South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group amongst others, they argue that the plan would ‘remove most of the rights’ of asylum seekers in the UK and must be condemned.

David Price, a founder of South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group, said: "We have written the letter because this document the Home Secretary has produced is an enormous threat to existing asylum seekers and to other people who try to get to the UK with enormous difficulty.

"In future the rights they have at present will no longer be there, and really the proposal is to remove most of their rights; to move them overseas, even while their case is being considered. All the people that work in asylum are very anxious about these proposals.

"I am hoping the MP’s will raise the profile of the issue. The consultation is taking place during the May elections in a very short time scale, almost as though the government doesn’t want too much attention drawn to this subject.”

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Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield has condemned the ‘shocking’ plan, and previously challenged the Home Secretary in Parliament.

He told the Sheffield Telegraph: “It’s a cynical and dishonest plan, which is playing for votes while failing to deal with the real problems in the asylum system.

"It includes shocking and cruel measures, which have been branded as ‘inhumane’ by the Red Cross.

"It will condemn those arriving through anything other than Government-approved schemes as ‘illegal’ and facing removal even if they have a valid asylum claim, while the approved routes are being closed down.

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"I’ll use every opportunity to oppose the plan and give those fleeing war and persecution the right to seek refuge that they have under international law.”

The letter in full sent to all six of Sheffield’s MPs:

Dear Sheffield MPs,

We are writing as named representatives of voluntary, community, and campaigning organisations which provide support to asylum seekers and other migrants covering all constituencies in Sheffield to express our serious concern about the New Plan for Immigration recently published by the Home Secretary. We find it disturbing that the UK Government is proposing measures which the UNHCR believes do not comply with the Refugee Convention.

The Plan gives a distorted analysis of the present situation. It condemns ‘illegal’ asylum seekers for failing to come here by ‘safe and legal routes’ without admitting that it is UK legislation that has blocked off safe and legal routes. There are punitive fines for airlines, shipping companies and road hauliers which bring ‘illegal asylum seekers’ into the country. The Plan claims that asylum seekers are obliged to seek asylum in the first safe country through which they travel. The UNHCR does not accept this interpretation of the Refugee Convention. Moreover, following BREXIT, the UK may find it difficult to persuade other countries to accept our asylum seekers.

The Plan fails to recognise that Article 31 of the Refugee Convention specifically states that penalties shall not be imposed on asylum seekers for ‘illegal entry’. The Government proposes to ‘clarify’ key elements of the convention in UK law’ but of course an international convention cannot be changed without the consent of all contracting parties.

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The Plan proposes to change the law to enable the Home Office to remove asylum seekers while their claim or appeal is pending. We believe that this would breach the human rights of asylum seekers as they would lose contact with their lawyers and other advisers and cease to have any control of their destiny.

The Plan proposes to place ‘illegal asylum seekers’ in a new ‘temporary protection status’ with less rights than at present and to reassess their position within the next 30 months with a view to return to their country of origin or another safe country. This seems to us potentially inhumane and again in conflict with the Refugee Convention.

The proposals are inhumane and unworkable. They would “slam the door in the face of people in dire need of protection from persecution. Despite the rhetoric, these divisive plans will do nothing to address the root causes of why people put their lives at risk trying to cross the Channel or the record backlog of people waiting in inhumane conditions for a decision on their claim for asylum. Instead, they threaten the very right to claim asylum in the UK and the safety of people on the move.” (Asylum Matters, April 2021)

We note that 454 immigration scholars have objected to these plans on the grounds that they ‘not only circumvent international human rights law but are also based on claims which are completely unfounded in any body of research evidence.’

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We note that the coverage in the press at a national and local level during this consultation period has been insufficient considering the severity of these proposed changes. We feel there needs to be more coverage, and that those with the power to raise their objections must do so consistently, for as long as it takes, as the voices of those who are directly affected are rarely listened to at all. We look to our MPs as the people with that power.

We ask that you write about your opposition to the Plan issue using this briefing on your website, newsletters, and social media, seek media coverage, and discuss with us how you can publicise your opposition and help platform our voices, and those of our community. We ask you to call on the Home Secretary to withdraw it, and speak to the leaders of your own parties to take a strong stand. We also ask that you champion our cause in Parliament throughout the consultation period and beyond, and speak to other MPs about this issue.

We also note that these proposals further undermine Sheffield’s proud status as the first City of Sanctuary. The cruel and harmful hostile environment policies, which we have all fought against for many years, are now joined by this plan to rip up the human right to refuge in the UK which makes seeking sanctuary untenable for most. We know that you as MPs for this city, with its proud history of protecting those who seek refuge, will agree.

We also ask that you meet with a small group of representatives of the signatories below, within the consultation period, to discuss it with us.

Yours sincerely,

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Richard Chessum, Co-Chair, ASSIST, Juliann Hall Co-Chair, ASSIST, Manuchehr Dijazi, Co-Chair, South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG), Phillis Andrew, Co-Chair, SYMAAG, Rosie Huzzard, Organiser, Yorkshire, Right to Remain and These Walls Must Fall, Tom Martin, Director, City of Sanctuary Sheffield, Craig Barnett, Co-Chair, City of Sanctuary Sheffield, Sarli Nana, Migrant Organiser, Yorkshire and Humberside, Migrant Organise, James Harrison, Organiser, Sheffield against Asylum Evictions, Anna Bollinger, CEO, Hope English School, Nell Attwood, President, Student Action for Refugees (STAR), University of Sheffield.