Rights Groups Offer Starmer a Vision for asylum overhaul

A coalition of over 300 refugee and human rights organizations, along with 534 individual advocates for migrants, has penned an open letter to Keir Starmer, presenting a comprehensive framework for reforming asylum policies.

The signatories, representing a broad spectrum of civil society, condemn the current approach as “fundamentally broken” and urge the Labour government to chart a new course. The letter outlines nine key recommendations, which, if implemented, would signify a significant shift in policy direction, addressing one of the most contentious and high-profile issues of the previous administration.

In an exclusive letter to the Guardian, a coalition of grassroots organizations and individuals deeply rooted in their communities across the UK has urged the government to adopt a new approach to asylum policies. The signatories, who have consistently supported and welcomed individuals seeking safety, lament the brutal effects of hostile policies and demand a shift from punishment to protection.

They highlight the devastating consequences of unworkable and cruel legislation, which has effectively denied the right to seek asylum in the UK, creating a massive backlog of tens of thousands of cases. The letter condemns the inhumane conditions faced by asylum seekers, including re-traumatization in makeshift camps, deteriorating mental health in overcrowded hostels, and the alarming rise in Channel fatalities, which have increased by 450% in the past year.

The letter is signed by prominent organizations such as the Refugee Council, Refugee Action, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, and Citizens Advice branches.

Their top priorities include:

  • Reestablish the fundamental right to seek asylum in the United Kingdom, aligning with international legal standards, by annulling the Illegal Migration Act and the Nationality and Borders Act. This repeal would ensure the UK upholds its obligations under global refugee law, providing a safe haven for those fleeing persecution and conflict.
  • Establish secure and legal pathways for asylum seekers to reach the UK, eliminating the need for perilous Channel crossings. This can be achieved by introducing visa programs, facilitating safe family reunification, and revitalizing refugee resettlement initiatives. By providing accessible and reliable routes, we can ensure the safety and dignity of those seeking protection.
  • Provide asylum seekers with community-based housing, integrating them into society instead of confining them to camps. Phase out institutional accommodations, including barracks, barges, hotels, and hostels, which inflict long-term harm at an exorbitant cost to the public purse. This approach will foster a sense of belonging and promote holistic well-being for those seeking safety.
  • Reinstate the right to work for asylum seekers within six months of their arrival, enabling them to rebuild their lives with dignity and contribute significantly to the UK economy. By doing so, they can utilize their skills and experience to generate an estimated £1.2 billion in economic growth, fostering a sense of purpose and independence.

Sarah Wilson, Director of Penrith and Eden Refugee Network (PERN), urged the new government to revive the UK’s tradition of welcoming refugees. She emphasized that PERN has witnessed countless lives ravaged and talents squandered due to the hostile environment, which is both senseless and harmful. Wilson stressed that it’s time for a paradigm shift in how the UK treats those seeking refuge, fostering a more inclusive and compassionate approach.

Duncan McAuley, Chief Executive of Action Foundation, emphasized the pressing need for a rational and compassionate response to individuals seeking safety in the UK. He expressed hope that the Labour government will overhaul the flawed asylum system, halting the vilification of people who embark on perilous journeys solely due to the absence of secure alternatives.

A spokesperson for the Home Office affirmed that the government is committed to reforming the asylum system, ensuring it functions efficiently, decisively, and justly, and guaranteeing the consistent application of regulations and policies.