I came to Britain as an asylum seeker – Priti Patel’s cruel plans will punish refugees seeking safety

After fleeing war and torture in Syria, I’ve been able to restart my life in the UK. Like many refugees, I had no choice but to take unconventional routes to safety

Hassan Akkad
Wednesday 24 March 2021 17:41 GMT
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Priti Patel: 'All options are on the table' over sending asylum seekers abroad

The government wants us to think that the UK faces an asylum crisis. It doesn’t. It is the government that is facing a crisis of empathy for some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

After fleeing war and torture in Syria, I’ve been able to restart my life in the UK. I’ve had opportunities to rebuild, make friends, to really get to know the things that make the UK an incredible place to live.

Under new proposals announced today, these opportunities would be increasingly unlikely. After all, I wasn’t able to take one of Priti Patel’s “safe and legal routes” to the UK.

My journey to safety involved a terrifying boat crossing. It involved hiding on lorries. In the end, I got to the UK on a forged passport. On my arrival I claimed asylum, and got it.

Under the government’s new proposals, people forced to take dangerous journeys to reach safety in the UK – people like me – will be punished. They will have limited rights to reunite with family. Limited access to support. Limited ability to make the UK their home and to rebuild.

People will be pushed to the margins of society, experiencing the crushing worry of a rolling 30-month leave to remain, always at risk of being sent back to face violence or persecution.

The home secretary claims she wants to support “legal” entry to the UK. But again and again, this government has shut down the “safe and legal routes” that they emphasise should be the only way people get to these shores.

Just a few months ago, the government voted down an amendment that would enable child refugees in Europe to be reunited with family members in the UK. Does this sound like a government acting in the best interests of vulnerable people, as Patel claims?

As with my own journey, for many people there is simply no way to get to the UK without using unconventional routes. Whether you are escaping brutal military conscription in Eritrea, are a gay person in Iran, or a political dissident in Egypt, you cannot just walk into a British embassy and ask for help.

It’s worth saying again: to close existing formal routes to safety while penalising those who are forced to take unconventional routes is not the behaviour of a government acting in the best interests of vulnerable people.

The government has framed their response as if the UK faces a crisis due to an unprecedented number of people claiming asylum. This just isn’t the case. Last year, the number of asylum applications nearly halved between April and June last year. But while asylum claims are low, the backlog to process these claims is growing and alarmingly high. The UK’s asylum system is under pressure, but clearly it’s not because of people seeking safety.

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A case in point: 43 per cent of Home Office asylum decisions are overturned in the courts. With these results often relating to life and death, this is an awful lot of bad decisions being made.

Rather than fixing issues within the inefficient department, the government’s new plan seeks to punish people who are in desperate need of protection.

I now have permanent leave to remain in the UK, and I look forward to building a life here – but I can’t bear thinking about what my life would be like, should I have been forced to make that journey now.

If the government is serious about protecting lives and smashing smuggling gangs, they should be opening generous routes of entry for people seeking safety – not embarking on these deeply inhumane plans.

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