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Sheffield City Council condemns government plans for immigration reform

The New Plan for Immigration will not “fix the broken asylum system” says Council.

Benjamin Elliott (Unsplash)

In July, Sheffield City Council wrote an open letter to the Home Secretary and the Home Office urging them to rethink their immigration reform plans in the Nationality and Borders Bill.

These are reforms that will limit ‘official’ routes into the UK, rewarding those that use the ‘legal’ routes, and criminalising anyone who enters the country via an ‘illegal’ route. It’s a bill that is effectively creating a two-tier system in the asylum process. The bill also includes plans to ‘streamline’ asylum claims and appeals by introducing a one-stop process, where migrants would have to raise any and all protection-related issues in the initial assessment, and a ‘good faith’ requirement, which would require migrants to “act in good faith at all times”.

The letter sent by the Council on 23 July outlines how this new Bill will make the work of local authorities that much harder when it comes to helping some of the most vulnerable in society. The Council states that this New Plan for Immigration will not “fix the broken asylum system”, if anything the plan is “likely to worsen the current position, not just for those seeking asylum in the UK, but also for the UK as a host nation and its citizens”.

The Council also mentioned how the creation of a two-tier system of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ migrants will not deter those seeking sanctuary in the UK, “it will simply make their route to safety even more treacherous.” It adds that the problem in the current immigration system doesn’t lie with migrants, but with the process itself.

The need for reform in the system is not due to the number of ‘illegal’ migrants coming to the UK, but due to a “lengthy and complicated process” that leaves many migrants in a state of limbo for long periods of time. And whilst migrants are awaiting their asylum decision from the Home Office, they are unable to work, which then means they have little money to access many key public services, such as housing.

“A more effective approach would be to consider how to better enable those who have come to our nation to make a valuable contribution,” the Council wrote in the letter. However, should migrants and asylum-seeking people only be thought of as being able to make a ‘valuable contribution’ to society? Many people coming to the UK will want to work, just as they did in their home country, but framing their work as a valuable contribution can also lead to the idea of having a ‘good’ and a ‘bad’ migrant. A person’s contribution shouldn’t be something that’s stipulated when a person comes to the UK to seek asylum and refuge.

Sheffield City Council ends the letter with a call to action for Priti Patel and the Home Office to “work with us in carrying out an effective, robust and transparent review of the asylum system”.

When asked about this call to action and the open letter, David Price, a member of South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG), told Now Then:

“We welcomed the letter that Council leaders sent to the Home Secretary. Building on Sheffield’s position as ‘the first City of Sanctuary’, Council leaders were right to emphasise the many faults of the present asylum system, and to argue that Patel’s New Plan for Immigration will make the situation worse.

Unfortunately, the Nationality and Borders Bill based on Patel’s plan has already received its second reading in Parliament. This is yet another sinister development in the ‘hostile environment’ policies pursued by the government.”

With mounting criticism regarding the recently announced Afghanistan resettlement plan, which many migrant organisations and charities have argued does not go far enough in helping Afghan people in the immediate future, there is now a renewed and widespread focus on the effectiveness of both the current immigration system and the pending Nationality and Borders Bill.

As Price says “With laws like this, how can we in Sheffield offer true sanctuary to asylum seeking people? We look to Sheffield City Council to make a stand and say: ‘We are a City of Sanctuary. We cannot and will not join the oppression of asylum seeking people in the way that you want us to.’”

When contacted about any further actions to the open letter, Sheffield City Council did not provide comment.

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