"We will continue to speak up for refugee rights and call for a fair asylum system in the UK"
By Mike Adamson, chief executive, British Red Cross
As we start Refugee Week, I’ve been reflecting on everything that has happened over the last year. From the General Election, to severe flooding across large parts of the UK, to the global pandemic of coronavirus and most recently the killing by police of George Floyd and the anti-racism protests that followed. So much has happened that will shape the future of the UK and the world.
But some things haven’t changed, and that includes the challenges that refugees and people seeking asylum face every day, whether it’s grappling with a complex and bureaucratic asylum process; trying to survive and rebuild while facing homelessness and poverty; or being separated from family members by borders and immigration rules.
Coronavirus has only exacerbated these challenges. Many aspects of the national coronavirus response simply aren’t compatible with the way that the UK’s asylum system runs, nor does it readily allow people to engage with the Government’s guidelines on keeping themselves, their families and their communities safe. This also comes at a time when services and support from charities and community groups is limited as a result of lockdown measures and financial pressures.
A crucial time for those seeking protection in the UK
Since last Refugee Week, positive and impactful changes to the asylum system have been disappointingly few and far between. The changes we have seen are mostly in response to the coronavirus pandemic, like the three-month halt on evictions from asylum accommodation and suspending the requirement for people to travel to Liverpool just to submit further information for their application. But even these changes have fallen short of what refugees and people seeking asylum desperately need at this time and in the future, such as the tiny increase to the financial support those in the asylum system receive.
This is now a crucial time for the UK to show in its policy that they believe #EveryRefugeeMatters and that they will support those fleeing conflict and persecution seeking protection here. Most of the recent changes are due to come to an end or are up for review this month.
WITHOUT CAREFUL CROSS-SECTOR PLANNING, MANY WILL AGAIN BE AT RISK OF HOMELESSNESS AND DESTITUTION.
This includes the halt to evictions from asylum accommodation. It’s critical that any changes don’t see a roll back in protection or support for refugees and people seeking asylum during this pandemic or beyond. Without careful cross-sector planning, many will be again be at risk of homelessness and destitution.
Reaching out to the UK Government
In partnership with people in the asylum system and with partner organisations, we are reaching out to the UK Government to ask them to work with us to develop plans for the next stage of the coronavirus response. The people who will be impacted by these plans must be put at the heart of them, taking into account the disproportionate impact COVID-19 is having on people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds and to be in line with the wider continued response to the public health emergency.
WE MUST LOOK TO THE FUTURE AND BEYOND CORONAVIRUS.
But we can’t stop there, we must also look to the future and beyond coronavirus. The Immigration Bill, currently going through parliament, sets the framework for a post-Brexit immigration system. This must also be an opportunity to look at longer-term reforms to the asylum system, including making changes to the UK’s rules that allow refugees to be reunited with their families, including their sons and daughters over the age of 18.
Ensuring families are able to safely reunite
The British Red Cross supports hundreds of families to safely reunite each year, but we are restricted by the definition of family in the current rules. At the end of the Brexit transition period, the UK will also leave the European Union’s Dublin System which has allowed over 1,600 people to join family members in the UK over the last two years. We are working with the Families Together Coalition to support amendments to the bill but we also need strong assurances that a suitable alternative to Dublin will be put in place, to ensure that families are able to reunite safely once we formally leave the EU.
I am reminded just how important this issue is right now, as many of us are struggling being separated from our families. We must remember that for refugees and people seeking asylum, this may be sadly their normal.
During this Refugee Week, we are highlighting the experiences of refugees across the UK. Throughout the week, and beyond, we will continue to speak up for their rights and call for a fair asylum system in the UK, as we imagine a world where everyone believes that #EveryRefugeeMatters.
Chief executive of the British Red Cross
Mike Adamson has been chief executive of the British Red Cross since 2014.
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