2nd Class Refugees

Danielle Cohen
By Danielle Cohen Immigration Law Solicitor Linkedin
Danielle Cohen has over 20 years of experience as a lawyer and a reputation for offering professional, honest and expert advice. 1 July 2021

The Government has announced sweeping changes to the asylum system so that the way that a person enters the United Kingdom will have an impact on their asylum claim.  Only refugees who arrive through official routes, such as refugee resettlements, will be given a right to settle in the UK. All other refugees will be reassessed for removal with limited rights to family reunion and limited access to Benefits.

The Government has called these changes “firm and fair”.  These reforms feel like punishment to many refugees and it is impossible that refugees will be treated differently according to the way they come to the country.  Under the current rules it is not possible to apply for asylum until you arrive at the border of the state you are entering.  At that point the international obligation of non-refoulement operates, which means that asylum seekers cannot be returned to their country of origin until their claim has been fully assessed and there is deemed to be no risk of harm. The refugee convention ratified by 145 countries also prohibits turning away refugees who entered illegally, providing they can show they have come directly from a place of persecution and there is good cause for their actions. 

It is very important to understand how entering illegally arises.  Asylum seekers often struggle to obtain official identity documents from the states they are being persecuted by, they cannot travel legitimately without such documents, and because it is impossible to obtain an asylum visa to enter the UK or any other country many times the only option for someone wishing to claim asylum is to engage in deception.  Even those who intend to seek asylum after arriving through other legal migration channels such as student or visitors can be defined as exercising deception. 

Under the UK Human Rights Act 1998 the United Kingdom is obliged to prevent people from being returned to places of torture or inhumane or degrading treatment or cruel and unusual punishment and this obligation is absolute.  It means in practice that to return an asylum seeker whose case has not yet been fully determined will be a clear violation of the Human Rights Act. 

The rationale for the proposal itself is questionable because there has not been a significant increase in asylum applications and the UK receives less applicants than any other European state of comparable size.  Many asylum lawyers argue that the bigger problem is the asylum system itself as the Home Office is slow in making decisions having abandoned the target of six months for straight forward applications, delays have increased significantly and many people wait for a long time for a substantive interview.  

Now more than ever it is important that asylum seekers obtain legal advice as to the way they present in their asylum claim.