One of the most common claims in British politics is that the Tories are tough on immigration, and Labour are soft.
In reality this is just posturing – right wingers like to claim to be tough on foreigners, while lefties feel the need to claim the opposite for effect. One side claims it wants to send everyone back, the other that everyone must stay.
Both extremes are of course equally wrong.
In reality the UK needs a functioning immigration system – we have a falling birth rate and an ageing population and without immigration it is very hard to grow our economy.
Part of a functioning immigration system is managing refugees and asylum seekers. The vast majority of people who come to the UK as refugees and asylum seekers have a legitimate reason to be here – the majority are granted asylum or indefinite right to remain.
There are however lots of reasons why the UK might want to “send someone back”:
1. they don’t have a legitimate reason to be in the UK (small number but significant)
2. they should have made their claim for asylum in another country
3. they were granted leave to stay in the UK but committed crimes
4. they were allowed to claim asylum because their was conflict or danger in their homeland, but that threat has gone
5. they just don’t like it here and would rather go back
The first 3 are forced removals, the last 2 voluntary.
When Labour was in power HM Government removed 10,000s of people every year, the majority of which went voluntarily.
Key to this were a series of programmes working with charities that supported refugees and asylum seekers. Under Labour the Home Office ran a scheme through a Charity called Refugee Action which helped Asylum seekers return home if they hadn’t settled in the UK. This scheme was a big success and helped over 30,000 people per year go home. People would trust them, in a way they wouldn’t trust the Home Office, and these programmes were a big success encouraging voluntary returns. The Government supported people in the 4th and 5th categories to return home, which freed resources to deal with the first 3 categories
When the Tories came to power they wanted to look tough on immigration so they scrapped these charity based schemes and brought them in house to the Home Office. Predictably numbers plummeted.
Then during the Brexit negotiations the UK withdrew from the Dublin Convention on refugees. Again, this was in order to take a “tough” stance and played well with the right wing press. Unfortunately it meant that we couldn’t return refugees and asylum seekers to other EU countries.
This was a total disaster
Finally Priti Patel became Home Sec promising to be even tougher, and reduce the number of people granted asylum in the UK. The problem is that this is out of her hands – the vast majority of people coming to the UK have a legitimate claim to come here, and Priti Patel can’t change that.
Instead she simply slowed down the whole process. Reduced resources deliberately to make the asylum process longer. This created a temporary reduction in the numbers granted asylum but only because the Home Sec was gaming her own system.
All this achieved was a huge fall in removals. Only 203 voluntary returns happened last year, down from 20,000 in 2005.
Thats how we ended up with hotels full of asylum seekers, Afghan allies waiting years for help, and Ukrainians unable to come to the UK. All caught up in the same chaos
This is the fallacy of “tough”. We have spent the last 12 years getting tougher to satisfy the right wing press and throw red meat to voters.
These “tough, new” measures were designed to capture headlines and promote the careers of ambitious and authoritarian politicians, with Theresa May one of the worst offenders.
Goes to show that compassion and efficient public management work better than mindless right wing posturing. Tougher policies created a much worse outcome.
This leaves us with a Home Secretary who has spent £120m of our own money on a press release with the Rwandan Government without bothering to check if the scheme was lawful first, and is now trying to shoe-horn a workable policy into a crass headline.
We have given up removing failed asylum seekers at the end of the asylum process (or speeding up the asylum process). Instead the government has decided to focus on removing an unspecified number of predominantly genuine refugees and asylum seekers to Rwanda. We could remove much higher numbers, far more cheaply to countries with much better human rights records simply by re-joining the Dublin convention with our EU partners. But this is not possible for a Government that signed a terrible Brexit deal but refuses to accept that it did.