It is clear that the Government has lost control and all sense of compassion when it comes to dealing with asylum seekers. From plans to send asylum seekers to remote islands, create waves in the English Channel to wash boats back, and buy ferries and oil rigs to process asylum claims, the Government is lurching from one inhumane and impractical idea to another.
I am concerned at the increase in small boat crossings of the English Channel and the danger involved in these. I believe it is wrong that these crossings are happening and that so many people, who have already faced extraordinary hardship, are risking their lives in doing so. However, I am particularly concerned by the Government’s response to this situation, which seems to be made up of unconscionable and absurd proposals trying to sound tough. I think the Government’s attempt to militarise its response to a humanitarian crisis is also shameful.
The Home Secretary said as long ago as August 2019 that she was working with the French government on small boat crossings of the Channel. However, lives are still being put at risk and the number of crossings has increased. I believe this is in part due to the Government’s approach and rhetoric. Indeed, the cross-party Foreign Affairs Committee which I was a member of, warned last year that the Government’s approach would likely lead to increased Channel crossing attempts.
Clearly, this situation requires multifaceted solutions with international partners that are viable, practical and humanitarian. More generally, we know that one of the key drivers of people fleeing their homes to seek sanctuary elsewhere is the impact of poverty, wars and persecution. It is therefore deeply regrettable that the Government has taken the decision to abolish the Department for International Development.
More widely, we need to see significant improvements in our asylum system. It is deeply concerning that the number of people waiting more than six months for a decision on their asylum claim has hit record levels. As of 31 March 2020, 31,516 asylum seekers had been waiting more than six months to receive an initial decision. Real people suffer when the Home Office takes too long to decide a claim.
Asylum seekers who have been waiting longer than six months for a decision on their claim should be able to work, unconstrained by the shortage occupation list. I believe giving this right to asylum seekers – who are often skilled and able to work – would not only improve their mental health but give them a sense of worth and purpose and enhance opportunities for integration into their new communities.
It is time we ended the deeply entrenched structural problems within our current asylum system and give asylum seekers the respect and dignity they deserve.