Ukraine crisis proves British public’s willingness to help refugees – if only Boris would listen

Are refugees welcome in the UK? It depends on whether you ask our government or our people.

This government deliberately blurs the line between “economic migrants” and “genuine refugees” in order to dismiss the two with one hand. He has just announced a new program by which even legitimate refugees, whose asylum applications are accepted as valid, will be sent back to Rwanda without hope of return. He may refer in passing to supporting asylum in specific and limited circumstances, but his actions have been to strangle the remaining routes for refugees seeking to come here.

But if you look at the collective response of thousands and thousands of families across this country to the crisis created by Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, it rather belies this cruel and closed approach taken by Boris Johnson and Priti Patel. The people of the UK welcome refugees – if only our government would get out of the way. This is why we must come together to show our support for the Welcome to Refugees campaign.

It has become a repeated truism from the government that our asylum system is broken. They are not entirely wrong. The problem, however, is that a big part of the reason it’s broken is because of this government, and the distorted incentives it has to pursue ever more cruel and impractical ready-made policies against refugees.

When Priti Patel became Home Secretary in July 2019, 22,000 people had been waiting for more than six months for a decision on their asylum applications. That number is now over 60,000. It’s not something that can be blamed on the pandemic – the numbers were already rising before Covid hit. This is a basic criterion of Home Office efficiency and it has not been achieved.

Between the failure on the job’s core mission, the ridiculous and immoral proposals to push people back in dinghies across the English Channel with wave machines, and more recently the failed response to refugees from Ukraine, you have the impression of a distressed Home Office. need a reboot.

The latest policy rocking Rwanda only reinforces the impression that ministers are more interested in publishing crazy ideas for newspaper headlines than creating a workable refugee system. For all their claims that this new policy announcement is long planned and has nothing to do with the Prime Minister’s Partygate fines distraction, the fallout since Thursday tells a different story.

Refugees minister Lord Harrington was himself caught off guard by the policy, saying there was ‘no possibility’ of it happening just days before his announcement. Home Office staff were reportedly shocked and demoralized when the announcement was published.

Worse still, Ms Patel overruled senior Home Office officials with a ‘Ministerial Instruction’ – i.e. giving a direct order to follow planned policy – because officials view her as so wrong judged on practical grounds, if nothing else. If even Home Office staff – hardly known for their soft-hearted liberalism – think you’ve gone off the rails, then you know there’s a serious problem.

It now appears that no proper compensation work was done to ensure the policy was legal. At best, it indicates incompetence. At worst, it suggests the Prime Minister – having been found guilty of personally breaking the law – is now seeking to reassert his powers by apparently seeking a legal dispute over the matter.

It turns out that if you let a scammer get away with it, they’ll just keep breaking the law. The problem, as always, is that there is plenty of incentive for this restless government to seek out flashy ads, legal or illegal, and very little incentive to take boring but meaningful action.

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After all, Priti Patel has been making these announcements like clockwork ever since she became Home Secretary. Lots of crazy diets – with little benefit to show for them. Channel crossings have only increased, while the profits of human traffickers have soared. We line the pockets of smugglers with our government’s short-term, press-hungry policies.

Boris Johnson and Priti Patel have convinced themselves that the public is as narrow-minded and closed-minded as they are – that even wholly unrealistic and costly refugee policies can be justified precisely because they are cruel, rather than in spite of themselves.

It is up to all of us to prove them wrong and that even in the face of an incompetent government, refugees are welcome in this country, as they always have been.

Alistair Carmichael is the Liberal Democrat spokesman for Home Affairs, Northern Ireland and Constitutional Reform – and party MP for Orkney and Shetland

Christi C. Elwood