Last week, Rishi Sunak unveiled a series of initiatives to reduce the government’s artificial backlog in asylum requests. Although Sunak nonetheless addressed the subject as being about “illegal immigration,” his tone was more measured than the occasionally erratic hyperbole to which we have grown used. For instance, there were no assaults against attorneys. Also, tofu. It is welcome in that regard. However, the new plan’s specifics do not appear likely to materialise, and the continued single outing of Albanians is a very disturbing development.
Morality Has No Bearing
“Any answer should be not only what works but what is right,” said Sunak in his opening statement. This makes for an intriguing standard for evaluating public policies. It implies that a policy that falls short of its goals can nonetheless be considered “right” in some other way.
This is undoubtedly a reference to the latest steps, like as the Rwanda plan, which no one seems to believe will truly stop people from travelling to the UK. Another interpretation is that it alludes to the hostile environment set of laws. These don’t appear to have affected immigration at all. Indeed, starting in 2016, there was a noticeable decrease in voluntary departures. However, some people believe that it is morally acceptable to refuse services to immigrants, even if doing so only leaves them vulnerable and poor within our borders and worsens racial discrimination towards black Britons as well as migrants.
On that basis, Sunak is revitalising the hostile atmosphere, not eliminating it. In response to the Windrush lessons learned report, one of our recent governments promised to review our hostile environment rules. What happened to that promise? There will be twice as many workplace raids, and immigration checks on current bank accounts will resume after being suspended by Sajid Javid during his tenure as Home Secretary due to the Windrush scandal.
Given the errors in the Home Office data, restarting these bank checks is quite troubling; banks must check current accounts against this data and immediately close accounts. Imagine being unable to pay your rent, buy food to eat, travel, or make any other kind of payment. A lawyer cannot be paid. You also cannot be compensated. This is what occurred to the victims of the Windrush scandal, however it was more of a gradual squeeze at the time rather than an abrupt catastrophe. If this happens to you, there isn’t much you can do about it because you can’t persuade the bank to amend the Home Office data and it will take months or perhaps years to get the Home Office to act.
Sunak believes that even though there is no probability that these actions will result in fewer small boat crossings, they should nevertheless be taken morally.
The Backlog Being Cleared
The statement’s most important aspect was Sunak’s commitment to reducing the backlog of asylum claims by the end of 2023. This is a brave pledge given that there are currently 117,400 cases on the waiting list for judgments, which is still expanding even though fewer decisions are still being made than new claims for asylum (relating to 143,377 people). The more we consider what Sunak is offering, the more foolish his promise appears. This appears to be a gigantic hostage to fortune.
It would take approximately 8,000 rulings per month to reduce the backlog to 20,000 cases or less, which was the average level for the majority of the 2010s. In the fiscal year that concluded in September 2022, just 16,400 decisions were taken. Given that there are currently significantly fewer than 8,000 decisions made each month and that it will take time to get to that number, Sunak’s vow would entail making far, far more decisions each month by the end of 2023.
From the present 1,200 authorities, the number of asylum caseworkers will reportedly double once again (see Sunak’s later response to Diana Johnson). Braverman previously stated at the Home Affairs Select Committee that her department hoped to hire 1,300 asylum caseworkers by March 2023, more than twice the amount in 2021. 2,400 additional asylum caseworkers would represent a very enormous increase in staff. Since Sunak promised to finish clearing the backlog by the end of 2023, it is difficult to imagine how this might take place by that date. It also appears improbable that it could. After that, what will happen to every caseworker? Processes and guidelines related to asylum are being revised. The number of interviews and documentation will be decreased, and nationality-specific specialisation will be implemented. A “blanket amnesty” was rejected by Sunak. There is still room for a targeted one, which appears to be the only practical method to fulfil the backlog pledge. Perhaps we will hear more announcements on this front once more decisions than asylum claims are eventually made.
There will be a small new boats “command” established. I’m not sure how this differs from Commander Dan, who Priti Patel named as the Clandestine Channel Threat Commander with “the principal role of making the Channel route unviable for small boat crossings.”
Sunak called it “appalling” that the government is now paying hotels £5.5 million a day to shelter asylum seekers. On that, everyone can agree. Naturally, the Home Office’s decision-making has slowed down because of bad administration and deliberate delays imposed by the government’s own “inadmissibility” system. Instead, it seems that venues with room for 10,000 people will be utilised, including abandoned summer camps, dorms for students, and former military installations. The remaining 133,377 persons (and counting) will likely continue with things as they are.
There have been no recent statements regarding the Rwanda proposal, which is still in progress. For instance, no new agreements with new nations were disclosed. In any case, keep an eye on this area for the first step of the legal challenge’s conclusion, which is anticipated for next week.
There appears to be yet another need for reform after twelve years of Conservative rule and three significant Acts of Parliament, each of which was meant to establish a new system. To make it “unambiguously clear” that people who enter the UK unlawfully would not be permitted to settle there, new legislation has been planned for “early next year.” It is said that late claims and appeals would not be accepted, and those who have been kicked out will not be allowed to come back. All of this was either promised by the Nationality and Borders Act, which was passed earlier this year into law, or is already the law (re-entry prohibitions, for instance). I find it difficult to take this seriously right now, but I realise that may not be the best course of action.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who is finding it increasingly unsettling how frequently the government singles out Albanians. They have evolved into the country’s goal post. Albanians who reside in the UK are likely to experience a very unpleasant effect. Though I believe we have witnessed comparable high-level attacks against Romanians and Bulgarians that were perhaps less prolonged, I cannot image other national groups being singled out in this manner.
With 400 employees, a new “special unit” solely to Albanian claims is being established. Caseworkers will receive new instructions that will make it “very obvious” that Albania is a safe country. To resolve Albanian cases in weeks rather than months, some type of new expedited procedure is being considered. Or years, as things stand right now. Although specifics were not made public, it doesn’t sound like a detained fast track.
According to Sunak, a new arrangement with Albania has been established that includes immigration agents working in Tirana. Given that Albanians are arriving through the Channel and not on direct flights, it is unclear what they will be doing there. The agreement underlines Albania’s and the UK’s adherence to the European Convention on Human Rights and to international trafficking accords. It also pledges the UK’s support for the Albanian government’s initiatives to aid victims of trafficking, however it is unclear whether this would entail additional funding.
Objective proof of contemporary slavery will purportedly be needed in the case of trafficking. Given that there is almost never going to be any “objective” or impartial third-party evidence of this type of crime, it is difficult to conceive what this implies in practise. It would be comparable to police ignoring domestic abuse because the culprit denies it. This line, in my opinion, was added by Sunak’s speechwriter to strengthen a planned modification to caseworkers’ instructions.
The “overwhelming majority” of Albanian asylum requests will be ruled to be categorically bogus because of these actions. In the “coming months,” Sunak promised to return “thousands” of Albanians via weekly flights, “until all the Albanians in our backlog have been removed.” Given that 175 Albanians were expelled in the months of April, May, and June 2022 and that 22,908 Albanians are presently waiting for an initial decision, this is yet another audacious vow. Even if they were all denied sanctuary, it would take thirty years to fulfil Sunak’s promise if things continued as they were.
For the cohort of Albanian immigrants who arrived in earlier years, about half of the asylum requests were approved over the past year, and more will have been successful on appeal. There are undoubtedly some real refugees and victims of modern slavery coming to our country from Albania, and the emphasis on denial and expulsion is likely to have the unintended consequence of returning some real refugees and victims of trafficking to considerable damage.
Massively expanding removals, decision-making, workplace enforcement visits (which are currently only occurring twice as often) and investing money in Rwanda removals all seem like a lot for a department that is already in disarray.
Will It Function?
There weren’t many news-grabbing extreme proposals, but there was a lot of information about how the government plans to deal with the backlog in refugee claims. Surely what is required are specifics and quiet expertise.
Sunak’s plans, however, don’t appear to be sufficient to eliminate the backlog of asylum cases by the end of 2023 or even to reduce it to roughly 20,000 cases. No information was provided regarding how the number of removals will rise so sharply. Given where the Home Office stands now, both jobs are enormous. Although the proposed staffing increase sounds remarkable, getting there on time will be quite challenging. Sunak appeared to rule out an amnesty, though he may have been careful with his wording. For nations who are quite likely to be granted refuge, such as Afghans, Eritreans, Iranians, and Syrians, an extremely fast asylum process might eliminate almost 30% of the backlog very rapidly.
Sunak’s two major promises do not appear to be likely to be fulfilled based only on last week’s announcements.
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Tahir Shahab Khan