The migration system is broken and too few are honest enough to admit it – The Telegraph - 01-11-22
Updated: Nov 4, 2022
By Philip Johnston
The Channel crossings won’t be ended through better bureaucracy, but through changes to the law
CREDIT: Dan Kitwood/Getty
As this newspaper’s correspondent back in May 2006, it fell to yours truly to cover the Commons home affairs select committee evidence session with the new home secretary, John Reid. He was the Red Adair of the Blair years, drafted into troubled departments to cap the well before the blow-out engulfed the government.
Then as now, no ministry was more problematic than the Home Office. Reid had been in post for just a fortnight when he gave the committee his considered view of what he had found, gifting the grateful hacks a guaranteed front-page story. “I want to be straight and honest with you because I believe that … in the wake of the problems of mass migration that we have been facing, our system is not fit for purpose,” he said, introducing that now-hackneyed phrase into the political lexicon.
Sixteen years on and Suella Braverman said pretty much the same thing in the Commons on Monday. “We need to be straight with the public. The system is broken. Illegal migration is out of control, and too many people are more interested in playing political parlour games and covering up the truth than solving the problem.”
Both occupants of this great office of state expressed the importance of “being straight with the public” and yet honesty is the one glaring, black hole-sized omission from this debate. Mr (now Lord) Reid thought the answer to controlling immigration – and he was really talking about asylum seeking – lay in improving bureaucratic structures, data processing and woeful information technology, and speeding up decision-making.
But the real difficulty is not one of process but of legal obligations. The failure of the system to cope is a function of the number arriving, not of administrative competence – even if the latter is sometimes absent.
Politicians demanding the instant removal of young Albanian men arriving in their thousands by boat across the Channel are themselves being dishonest because they know that, under international treaty commitments, the UK must consider an application for political asylum however unfounded it might appear. If it is not justified then clearly the case should be quickly dealt with and the applicant deported; but things are not straightforward. The more people who come in, the harder it is to process their legal claims, the more clogged up the system gets, and the longer the legal backlog becomes.
In addition, the people who complain most about the conditions in which asylum seekers are kept, itself the result of a sharp rise in the numbers crossing the Channel, are often the same people who will not support the means to stop the traffic. They are opposed to every measure designed to act as a disincentive to economic migration, such as the failed attempt to use Rwanda as a processing centre.
Mass migration is affecting everyone, and resourceful people will find a way to get where they want, whether or not they are fleeing persecution. Of the 40,000 people who have crossed the Channel in small boats this year, a great number are from Albania, mainly young men. As Mrs Braverman told MPs: “Albania is not a war-torn country, and it is very difficult to see how claims for asylum really can be legitimate.”
Yet last year, 55 per cent of Albanian applicants were granted asylum in the UK. The acceptance rate for Albanians in Germany, Sweden and many other EU countries was zero, in France it was two per cent, in Ireland three per cent and in Spain four per cent. So how come the UK accepted that more than half the claims were legitimate?
As a consequence, asylum campaigners are able to denounce Mrs Braverman for using inflammatory rhetoric against a group of asylum seekers that her own department accepts is being persecuted, even though everyone knows the claims are spurious.
One explanation for the difference here is the existence of the Modern Slavery Act introduced by Theresa May. As Mrs Braverman said: “We see a large number of Albanian migrants arriving here and claiming to be victims of modern slavery.” The benchmark for a claim under the statute is set so low that almost any story seems to guarantee acceptance.
In addition, refusing an asylum request does not mean the applicant is removed from the country. The more hidebound the system, the harder it is to deport anyone. Some people have been here for years awaiting final decisions, setting down roots and bringing up families. Asylum groups say these delays are the result of administrative incompetence, not the weight of numbers but this is disingenuous. Moreover, it is not true that the UK is unwelcoming: since 2015, more than 380,000 asylum seekers and their families, primarily from Hong Kong, Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine, have received refugee status.
The root of this problem, therefore, is both legal and political. It is not unlawful to claim asylum; indeed, the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and its various protocols specifically provide for the non-penalisation of illegal entrance in recognition that “the seeking of asylum can require refugees to breach immigration rules”. So if you want to deport people without checking their status, the law needs to override international obligations that will otherwise be upheld by the courts.
Mrs Braverman, a lawyer and former attorney general, presumably understood this when she told MPs on Monday that she proposed to change the law to raise the threshold under the Modern Slavery Act (an unnecessary measure introduced for virtue-signalling purposes only). In addition, she said, “we need to take action to accelerate the process and prevent the exploitation of our laws. People are claiming asylum unfairly and unjustifiably”. What she did not say was that this will mean abrogating the UK’s commitments under various international conventions.
Will Mrs Braverman really be allowed to do this by those who pay lip-service to controlling immigration but don’t really mean it? She is right to say her opponents want to get rid of her, but even her own colleagues are distancing themselves from her hard line. If she is to survive then they either need to back her – or end the pretence that they are taking this matter at all seriously.
As an addendum to this article from the Telegraph, readers may like to see this article from the Times entitled:
Ten million residents of England and Wales born outside the UK, 2021 census shows – The Times - James Beal, Social Affairs Editor – 03.11.22