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24 March 2021

Patel sets out ‘most significant overhaul of our asylum system in decades’

24 March 2021

The Home Secretary has vowed to tackle “illegal migration head-on” as she announced “the most significant overhaul of our asylum system in decades”.

Priti Patel said she was introducing a “comprehensive, fair but firm” plan which would address those entering the UK “illegally”.

In a statement, she told the Commons: “The Government has taken back control of legal immigration by ending free movement and introducing a points-based immigration system.

“We are now addressing the challenge of illegal migration head-on.

“I’m introducing the most significant overhaul of our asylum system in decades, a new comprehensive, fair but firm long-term plan.

“Because while people are dying, we have a responsibility to act.”

For “too long” parts of the immigration system have been “open to abuse”, she said, adding that the system has become “overwhelmed” with a backlog of 109,000 asylum claims.

Some 52,000 are awaiting an initial decision and three quarters are awaiting a year or more, she told MPs.

She said: “The persistent failure to enforce our immigration rules with a system that is open to gaming by economic migrants and exploitation by criminals is eroding public trust and disadvantaging vulnerable people who need our help.”

Ms Patel put forward three “fair but firm objectives” to support those in genuine need for asylum, to deter illegal entry into the UK, and to remove more easily those with “no right to be here”.

Last year about 8,500 people arrived in the UK by crossing the Channel in small boats and the majority claimed asylum, the Home Office said. Around 800 are estimated to have made the crossing so far this year.

People who arrive in the UK illegally will no longer have the same entitlements as those who arrive legally under the Home Office plans, leading charities to criticise the changes for judging claimants on how they arrived and not just on merit.

Earlier on Wednesday Ms Patel defended the proposals from accusations that they were “inhumane” as she confirmed the UK will look at sending migrants overseas for processing.

The Home Office has argued that “fairness” and a genuine need for refuge are at the heart of the new proposals, as well as including measures to tackle people smugglers and “remove more easily from the UK those with no right to be there”.

And the department said that “for the first time” whether “people enter the UK legally or illegally will have an impact on how their asylum claim progresses, and on their status in the UK if that claim is successful”.

The British Red Cross said it will create an “unfair two-tiered system” for asylum.

These changes risk making the situation even worse for victims of human trafficking as it would be even harder to access help in the UK, helping criminal gangs escape justice

Ms Patel defended the plans as necessary to deal with the “terrible trade” of people smuggling and to fix the “broken” asylum system.

She confirmed deals could be sought for foreign nations to process asylum claimants, saying the Government will “consider all options”.

Ms Patel is yet to say which nations she wishes to strike deals with for asylum processing centres but last week Gibraltar firmly rejected suggestions it could house a site, as did the Isle of Man.

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: “The plans risk baking into the UK system, the callousness frankly of this Government’s approach,” adding: “These changes risk making the situation even worse for victims of human trafficking as it would be even harder to access help in the UK, helping criminal gangs escape justice.”

The measures “will do next to nothing to stop people making dangerous crossings and they risk withdrawing support from desperate people”, he said.

The Government is carrying out a public consultation on the plans.

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