David Simmonds: The Nationality and Borders Bill must ensure our immigration system is fir­­­­­m but fair

4 Aug

David Simmonds is the MP for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner and Chairman of the APPG on Migration.

I was pleased to be able to speak in the House of Commons on the second reading of the Nationality and Borders Bill last week. It is an important Bill, which aims to increase the fairness of the system to better protect and support those in need of asylum, deter illegal entry into the UK, thereby breaking the business model of people smuggling networks and protecting the lives of those they endanger and remove those with no right to be in the UK more easily.

The Nationality section of the Bill has not received much attention even though it performs the important role of fixing outdated nationality laws. This Bill gives the Home Secretary power to grant British citizenship to people who would have become British citizens if not for unfairness and exceptional circumstances beyond their control.

It provides further flexibility to waive residency requirements, to help members of the Windrush Generation and others acquire British citizenship more quickly. And it will mean children unfairly denied British Overseas Territories Citizenship will finally be able to acquire British citizenship.

I also welcome some of the measures which have been announced to strengthen the immigration system. I have personally seen, on a visit to the Jungle refugee camp in Calais, smugglers driving around offering a list of services with being smuggled into the UK in a British-plated car with a British driver as one of the more expensive options and a much more dangerous channel crossing or breaking into a lorry as the cheaper options.

This has led to some particularly hideous cases in the UK where large numbers of refugees have died in the hands of those criminals because of the way in which they are being smuggled into our country, so it is absolutely right that we do everything in our power to tackle people smugglers.

Alongside the focus on people smugglers and channel crossings, media coverage of the Bill has been dominated by the power to treat refugees differently, depending on the nature of their arrival in the UK and whether they have come to the UK directly from a country where their life or freedom was threatened.

In parallel to this power, I would like to see an expansion of safe and legal routes to ensure that those who are fleeing persecution are able to settle in the UK. I welcome the Home Secretary’s recent announcement that from October, refugees resettled into the UK will be granted indefinite leave to remain on arrival in the UK, free of charge.

The announcement of an emergency resettlement mechanism working with the UN refugee agency which will identify refugees in need of emergency resettlement from anywhere in the world and fast-track them into the UK, will cut down on bureaucracy and enable resettlement in a matter of weeks.

As I have written before, the Syrian refugee resettlement scheme has been a great British success story and we should model our response to future resettlement based upon it.  However, we must understand that we cannot undertake resettlement on the cheap. The Syrian refugee resettlement scheme was well-funded and because of the additional resources and checks, it garnered a huge amount of public goodwill and was effective in securing public confidence.

Of course, as a Conservative I completely appreciate, now more than ever, that we must be responsible in spending taxpayer’s money. We already spend an eye-watering sum of money on the asylum system; over £1 billion a year. An easy way to significantly reduce the cost of the asylum system would be to end the ban on asylum seekers working.

At the moment, asylum seekers are effectively banned from working and are forced to claim benefits. Lifting the ban would instantly see benefits paid to asylum seekers reduced considerably, tax receipts would increase as well as allowing highly qualified asylum seekers to plug gaps in areas where we are seeing significant shortages. Cutting bureaucracy like this is especially vital now as policymakers begin to plan how they will pay down the huge Coronavirus debt.

Furthermore, the Government must not shunt the cost of the asylum system to local authorities in the form of attaching no recourse to public fund conditions (NRPF) to asylum seekers. People with NRPF do not have access to the welfare system, even if they have been paying into the system through their taxes. Migrants who become destitute often receive emergency support from local councils because of the statutory duty of local authorities to support vulnerable adults and families with children in their jurisdiction, further extending the black hole in council finances.

Instead, we must work towards a system which is tough on people smugglers and criminals who seek to take advantage of our hospitality but one that ensures we extend this hospitality to the most needy and vulnerable. A system that is efficient and works for taxpayers and local communities whilst providing support for refugees and opportunities for integration.

Tony Smith: Expanding the UK refugee resettlement scheme is one way we can improve our border security

12 Aug

Tony Smith is a former Head of the UK Border Force and Director of Ports and Borders in both the UK and Canada. He is now Managing Director of Fortinus Global Ltd, an international border security company, and Chairman on the International Border Management and Technologies Association.

On July 3 I wrote in these pages that in order to turn the tide on migrant boats entering UK waters illegally we would need a new agreement with France, which would enable us to return the migrants safely and securely immediately whence they came.

This week immigration minister Chris Philp is seeking precisely that with his French counterpart. Meanwhile numbers have continued to rise with over 4,000 now having made the journey this year, and new intake records being broken almost every week.

As a former practitioner with over 45 years’ experience in the immigration and borders business I have been inundated with requests for media interviews. Why do they come? How do they come? How can we stop them? Why don’t we let them in? Why don’t we let more in?

In my time in the Immigration Service (and the UK Border Force, which it later became) I was criticised from both ends of the political spectrum for working in the field of immigration and border control.

Many a taxi driver said to me (hopefully in jest) that it was “all my fault” that we were overwhelmed by immigrants. Others (less so in jest) saw me as having some kind of character flaw for being so nasty to innocent people, by denying them entry or by making it hard for them to enter and stay illegally in the UK.

In my many media appearances on this topic over the past few weeks I have appeared with several commentators from across the political spectrum – some wanting complete border closures: others wanting the complete abolition of borders.

I was Director of Ports of Entry in the Blair years. In 2002 we saw a record intake of over 80,000 asylum seekers. The vast majority were coming across the English Channel on ferries, trains, or concealed in vehicles. Since then we have concluded several bilateral agreements with France to enhance immigration controls on those routes. This was a top priority for that government, just as it is for this one.

By 2005 we had reduced asylum intake to 25,000. It went lower still before creeping up again in recent years, to around 35,000 last year. Even then the Home Office never really recovered from the 2002 crisis. The Department was criticised year on year for “failing to get a grip” of the asylum backlog, despite a three-fold increase in resources and a massive spend on asylum accommodation and infrastructure across the country.

Asylum applications are notoriously difficult to assess; the easy option is to grant asylum (or at least exceptional leave to remain). Even when refused, the route to removal is a tortuous one riddled with endless appeals, judicial interventions and – even then – non-compliance with the documentation and reporting processes.

According to UNHCR there are now 79.5 million forcibly displaced people in the world at the end of 2019. 26 million are outside their country of origin in places like Turkey (1.6m) Pakistan (1.5m) Lebanon (1.15m). Hundreds of thousands are in other countries close to unstable states, such as Iran and Ethiopia.

Meanwhile despite pleas from UNHCR, the Western World has consistently reduced its contribution to refugee resettlement schemes. In 2019 countries previously renowned for a more generous approach to refugee resettlement reduced the numbers to a trickle – 21,000 in the USA, 9,000 in Canada, 3,000 in Australia. In the EU the UK took 5,774 refugees through resettlement routes – more than any other EU country.

Yet we hear of far more “generous” approaches to asylum in other countries. The fact is the number of asylum applications in mainland EU countries far exceeds their political will to accept refugees. They have no choice, because the external EU border is porous and a great many irregular migrants have managed to penetrate it. Once there, many want to choose which EU country they would like to live in. Encouraged by the borderless Schengen zone, many will drift North and lodge asylum applications in those countries they see as more attractive (eg Germany, Scandinavia, France).

Because the UK is not (and never was) in the Schengen zone the final hurdle is the English Channel, and how to penetrate that. Given enforcement measures by successive governments of all colours they have found it evermore difficult to do so – at least until they discovered this latest loophole of getting out onto the waters and getting “rescued” by a British vessel.

I have heard many commentators argue that it is lawful for asylum seekers to cross borders without papers or permission, to make their claims. In fact, the correct terminology is “irregular” rather than “illegal” migration; but it cannot be right that International Conventions can effectively trump border controls altogether as people seek new lives in other countries. Not least because this fuels international organised crime and human smuggling chains who will continue to prey on vulnerable people by exploiting “irregular” routes.

Many of those in Calais have already been refused permission to stay in an EU country; but as far as they are concerned that is only the start of the process, not the end of it. Those who argue for major UK resettlement offices in France miss the point.

First, if there is hope that by getting into France you have a greater chance of getting into the UK, then more will come to France. Hardly desirable from their point of view, given their own asylum backlogs. Second, we already know that many won’t take no for an answer; and while they remain in France, they will continue to try to penetrate the UK Border by irregular means including this one.

There is certainly a global debate to be had about legal resettlement routes. The frustration of the UNHCR and refugee lobby is palpable. By refusing to open legitimate resettlement programmes for those displaced in source and transit countries, the Western world is simply encouraging irregular migration across multiple borders.

As the transition period comes to an end and we depart the Dublin Convention, we must firstly negotiate safe third country agreements with our neighbours to stop irregular migration and asylum shopping. Anything less is clear evidence that we have lost control of our borders; something we know is unacceptable to most people living here already.

Assuming we are able to do so, the UK could then show the way for the rest of the world to encourage the proper resettlement of some of the 26 million refugees who are already displaced around the world by expanding the UK refugee resettlement scheme.

However, it would be impossible for any government to do so without first demonstrating very clearly to the public that this is “controlled” migration to people who are genuinely deserving of protection; and not “uncontrolled” or “irregular” migration to the UK, over which we have no control.

First and foremost, we must stop the boats and “take back control”. Anything less will continue to undermine public confidence in our border controls and play directly into the hands of the smugglers.