Campaigners and faith leaders have joined forces to warn the Prime Minister his Government’s overhaul of the asylum system could “detach the UK from international refugee law”.
A total of 76 charities and community groups from across Scotland have signed an open letter to Boris Johnson, highlighting their concerns – including that the changes may see politicians in London “directly intrude on the devolved competences of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government”.
It comes after Home Secretary Priti Patel announced what she described as the “most significant overhaul of our asylum system in decades” last month.
She said the UK would introduce a “comprehensive, fair but firm” plan to deal with those entering the UK “illegally”.
Under the proposals, people coming into the UK illegally will no longer have the same entitlements as those who arrive legally, giving rise to concerns about asylum seekers being judged on how they arrived in the UK and not on merit.
The UK Government insists that the changes it is making are all consistent with international law, and meet its obligations under the UN Refugee Convention.
But the groups, who include the Scottish Refugee Council as well as the Church of Scotland, the Scottish Muslim Forum, the Scottish Trades Union Congress and housing campaigners at Shelter Scotland, told the Prime Minister that the plan would “render many people seeking refugee protection, on arrival in the UK, ineligible for asylum”.
In their open letter to Johnson, they told him: “Most people in Scotland and the rest of the UK want a system that reflects the compassion, decency and common sense they believe in – especially as we rebuild the UK after the pandemic.”
They added: “As Prime Minister and Minister for the Union, we urge you to reconsider the deeply flawed plans and engage with those with experiences of the system as it is now – the people with lived experience of rebuilding their lives in safety in Scotland and the rest of the UK.”
The groups called for UK ministers to “set out clearly how they will engage with devolved governments to ensure that a fair and humane asylum system can be developed that works for all four nations of the UK”.
And Sabir Zazai, the chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council, said: “These proposals are a direct threat to the very principle of providing asylum, and put plainly, are the biggest threat to refugee rights in the UK that we have seen for decades.
“The plans fundamentally misunderstand the life or death nature of seeking asylum, and have been drafted without any input from people with experience of the asylum system.
“The fact is that for the vast majority of people seeking protection, doing so through an organised and official route is simply impossible. There is no illegal route to seek asylum, and the UK Government is perfectly aware of this.”
He described the UK Government’s planned use of temporary reception centres as another serious concern, saying: “We have seen so many examples of unacceptable conditions in these types of places, such as the army barracks being used in England and hotel rooms across the UK.
“We believe everyone has the right to a home, a house or a flat, within a community, not separate and distanced and behind barbed wire fences.”
Mr Zazai also stated: “Many of these proposals directly intrude on the devolved competences of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government, such as the Scottish legal system, anti-trafficking legislation and age assessment process.
“The consultation period for these proposals runs at exactly the same time as the Scottish elections, meaning many Scottish authorities have been unable to respond.”
A UK Government spokesman said: “We have a responsibility to put the New Plan for Immigration into action so that we can fix the broken asylum system, helping people based on need, not the ability to pay people smugglers.
“The consultation has been open for over a month and thousands of stakeholders and members of the public from across the UK have shared their views. We will consider all responses carefully before bringing forward legislation.
“We recognise the importance of successfully integrating those resettled in the UK and the New Plan sets out a number of measures to support this, including immediate indefinite leave to remain for those that arrive through safe and legal routes.”