Priti Patel Priti Patel. Photo: Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street / Flickr, license linked at bottom of article

The Home Secretary’s latest asylum proposals are characteristically racist, callous and devoid of compassion, writes Sean Ledwith

Having been rebuffed over her authoritarian Police and Crime Bill, Priti Patel has returned to another trope of the racist Tory right in an effort to regain some political capital. As if trying to reduce the centuries-old right to protest for those already in the UK is not authoritarian enough, she is now set on inserting yet more obstacles in the path of those desperate human beings seeking asylum in this country.

Yesterday in the Commons she outlined her latest proposals for Britain’s so-called refugee crisis. Although she claims the system is broken and that the UK is buckling under the pressure of inward-bound asylum seekers, statistics indicate her alarmist rhetoric is wholly unjustified. Last year the number of asylum applications fell by almost 50% between April and June and even that number is half that of the 2002 figure. Germany has taken over one million people in compared to the UK’s 130,000. Patel and her ilk cynically like to portray the UK as a soft touch in terms of asylum while in reality four out of five of those in the Middle East pursuing some respite from horror and war settle in neighbouring countries.

Endemic racism

The root of the issue is not excessive numbers trying to get into the country but a dysfunctional Home Office appeals system which currently has three-quarters of those here awaiting the processing of their applications. This bottleneck is partly a consequence of the racist hostile environment mentality that is evidently endemic in Whitehall and the government’s mean-spirited reductions in the availability of legal aid for those seeking asylum. 45% of appeals against Home Office asylum rejections are successful indicating something is still rotten in the heart of the British state even after the Windrush scandal.

Patel’s proposed Sovereign Borders Bill aims to penalise even further those whose desperation forces them to resort to dinghies, lorries or even the undercarriage of planes in a bid to reach the UK. This group whose circumstances make it impossible for them to pursue the legal route to asylum are threatened with the withdrawal of entitlements available via the government-approved process. The Home Secretary wants the ability to deport these refugees even while their application is going through the system and to deny them benefits and family reunion rights.

Patel is typically propagating the pernicious right-wing myth that those who are desperate enough to gamble their lives on the flimsiest of waterborne vessels are in some sense queue-jumpers who deserve scant consideration. In her bile-filled words:

If you illegally enter the UK via a safe country in which you could have claimed asylum, you are not seeking refuge from imminent peril, as is the intended purpose of the asylum system, but are picking the UK as a preferred destination over others.

Enver Solomon from the Refugee Council has denounced this despicable attempt to demonise incredibly vulnerable people and set up a two-tier classification of those fleeing persecution, war and terror:

Refugees are ordinary human beings who have had to take extraordinary measures to seek safety. They don’t have a choice-the threat to their lives is so great that they have to quickly uproot themselves and find a life elsewhere. Sometimes this involves paying people smugglers large sums to get to safety in the UK.

Priti Poisonous

Other critics have noted Patel’s plan is in probable violation of the 1951 UN convention and its 1967 protocol on the status of refugees which guarantees asylum seekers the unfettered right to choose a country for resettlement of their own choice. She also claims those coming to the UK via EU states could be returned to member states such as France or Germany. Since Brexit, however, Britain has no such deals with EU states, meaning these desperate individuals and families could face deportation right back to the war-torn locations they are fleeing from.

It also ignores the fact that refugees continuing their perilous journey to the UK do so because they already have family in the UK, because of language barriers or their treatment at the hands of authorities in other countries – we’ve all seen the shocking treatment of refugees in Calais at the hands of French police.

This heartless scheme is just the latest refugee-bashing notion to emerge from Patel’s alt-right brain. Over recent months she has toyed with sending asylum seekers to far-flung locations as the Isle of Man, St Helena, the Falklands and Papua New Guinea. There has even been deranged talk of water cannons and floating walls being deployed in the Channel. Nothing it seems is too ridiculous for the Home Secretary’s desire to cash in on the xenophobic agenda of the tabloids and far right groups such as Britain First.

Marley Morris from the Institute for Public Policy Research has added his voice to those condemning Patel’s inhumane plans:

The home secretary has said she wants to learn the lessons of Windrush and deliver a compassionate immigration system that puts people first. Yet the reforms proposed today risk marginalising the people most in need of protection.

We need to vigorously reject Patel’s blatant attack on some of the most vulnerable human beings on the planet and ensure that it is knocked sideways in the same manner as her equally hateful attack on our civil liberties.

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Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith is a Counterfire member and Lecturer in History at York College, where he is also UCU branch negotiator. Sean is also a regular contributor to Marx and Philosophy Review of Books and Culture Matters

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