Desperate refugees crossing the channel in August 2020

Doctors in Unite expresses its serious concern at the implications of the UK Government’s “New Plan” for immigration particularly as it affects asylum seekers and refugees.

There are  80 million displaced people world-wide due to civil conflict and natural disasters. This includes approximately 30,000,000 refugees. Four fifths of all refugees remain in the region of their displacement.

Since 2015 the UK Government has accepted approximately 25,000 refugees for settlement with 51,500 applications (2015-19) approved for dispersal across the UK – this is just over 0.1% of the UK population. The UNHCR estimates that there are just over 133,000 (2019) refugees in the UK.

Refugees come to the UK to escape danger and persecution. As well as our international duties we have provided a place of refuge for the persecuted down the centuries. This should be a source of national pride and not be presented as a problem.

Many of the refugees who come do so because of established historical  links dating back to Empire days or, in some cases, because Britain has been involved in the conflicts that have given rise to their displacement in the first place.

The UK Government’s proposals seek to make an artificial distinction between “legal” and “illegal” asylum seekers with former arriving after completing a formal resettlement process and the latter making an application on reaching here. Considering that asylum seekers are fleeing danger and persecution such a distinction seems bizarre.

The UK government argues that those who are fleeing persecution and danger should apply for settlement in the first country they reach and if they do not do so it is because they see the UK as a soft touch. However, there is no duty on asylum seekers to seek asylum in the first country they reach and in fact historical, linguistic or kinship links may make such an application inappropriate.

The UK has an international duty to consider an application regardless of how the asylum seeker arrives on our shore. We compare poorly with such countries as Germany, France and Spain that receive 2-3 times more asylum applications.  On a per capita basis the Irish Republic has had a a higher application rate over the last three years with a 40% higher level in 2019 even though it has not colonial links and is further removed from the European mainland.

This false and hostile distinction that the UK Government is seeking to make could result in asylum seekers arriving in a more vulnerable and traumatised state. This will mean even more harm and distress for people who have turned to the UK as a base of sanctuary and safety.

Doctors in Unite believes that proposals being put forward by the Home Secretary Priti Patel are a source of national shame and that the UK can and must do much better.