Politicians should think of Ukraine amid asylum reforms, British Red Cross says

Jon Featonby, of British Red Cross, says the Ukraine situation has made the way refugees are treated ‘very real for people’.

15 March 2022

The experiences of Ukrainian refugees fleeing for their lives should be at the “forefront” of the minds of politicians as they consider sweeping asylum reforms, the British Red Cross (BRC) has said.

The Government says it wants to stop people using illegal routes but the BRC has concerns about the Nationality and Borders Bill.

Provisions in the Bill will make it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK illegally and introduce life sentences for those who facilitate illegal entry into the country.

The  horror of the Ukraine situation has made the way refugees are treated “very real for people,” including politicians, according to Jon Featonby, of the BRC.

Mr Featonby, the BRC’s refugee and asylum policy manager, said the nation has seen refugees “struggling to access” some of the routes which have been introduced by the Home Office.

Moldova Russia Ukraine War
Refugees stand in a group after fleeing the war from neighbouring Ukraine at the border crossing in Palanca, Moldova (Sergei Grits/PA)

The proposed legislation is going through Parliament and due to enter the final stages in the House of Lords.

With up to 89,000 households having now signed up to offer a home to Ukrainian refugees in the UK, Mr Featonby added there was “really strong public support to provide protection for people”.

He said: “Our hope as the British Red Cross is that over the next few weeks as MPs and then members of the House of Lords are considering the Bill is that they have got some of those experiences and some of those people who they have been fleeing for their lives on their television pictures at the forefront of their minds.”

The BRC says the overhaul of the asylum system would for the first time see people seeking protection as a refugee having their claim assessed on how they arrived in the UK, rather than the dangers they have fled.

Under the proposed changes, those who arrive in an unofficial way such as by crossing the Channel would no longer receive the same protection, even if they then go on to be recognised as a refugee.

Instead, they would have  temporary protection  in the UK with limited rights to reunite with their families or access welfare support.

The BRC says it is concerned that a person seeking asylum could be prevented from accessing vital services and that the changes could make it difficult for them to have their asylum claim heard.

Mr Featonby said that “certainly one of our concerns is that this Bill will reduce the opportunity for people to seek safety in the UK” as people who manage to get to the UK through irregular means could potentially face being criminalised or having a second tier status.

He feared there could be a “domino effect” that may impact refugees if other nations followed the UK’s approach.

Pointing to the refugee crisis in Ukraine, Afghanistan and Syria, he said: “At the moment the vast majority of people, more than 80 per cent of people who are forced to flee their homes, do so in those countries neighbouring them.

“All we are really asking the UK Government to do is to really make sure that those relatively small proportion of people who do want to reach the UK, can reach the UK and then be able to find the protection and safety they need to be able to rebuild their lives here.”

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