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Immigration


Rishi Sunak has quietly dropped a key plank of last year’s asylum law that introduced a two-tier refugee system and made lives tougher for tens of thousands of people who arrived in the UK via small boats. In a move to cut the asylum backlog, the Home Office said in a written statement on Thursday that it would no longer differentiate between people who arrived by irregular means, such as those who crossed the Channel, and other asylum seekers, as had been stipulated in last year’s Nationality and Borders Act. It means the government will be able to speed up the processing of claims for about 55,000 people who have arrived in the UK since last June, according to refugee experts. Of those, nearly 15,000 from countries with high grant rates such as Afghanistan and Sudan can be processed using questionnaires instead of via in-person interviews. It also means that people who arrived by small boat will be given improved rights such as the ability to reunite with family members. Enver Solomon, the chief executive of the Refugee Council, said the decision was an admittance that the government had failed to deliver. “It’s the right decision to pause the differentiation policy that treats refugees based on how they got to the UK rather than on their need for protection,” he said. “The government is now admitting that its flagship Nationality and Borders Act has failed to deliver. As was predicted by us and other refugee organisations, it hasn’t deterred desperate men, women and children from taking dangerous journeys but has simply led to unnecessary misery for many refugees.” Labour seized on the change as further evidence of government incompetence over immigration policy. Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said the decision had left the government’s policy in tatters. “They have slipped out the announcement in a written statement to avoid publicity or scrutiny,” she said. “This is a damning indictment of the Conservatives’ flagship immigration bill, and of their entire record on small boats, and shows ministers have no idea what they are doing.” Some senior Conservatives condemned the decision. One said: “This gets rid of a strong deterrent and looks like a de facto amnesty introduced just so they can process cases instead of stopping the boats. We are softening the approach under Rishi, which is not going to go down well on red wall doorsteps.” Priti Patel as home secretary last year announced plans to overhaul the asylum system and differentiate between people entering by legal routes, such as resettlement, and those arriving by irregular routes or having passed through countries deemed safe. Under the new law, those who came via small boats and successfully applied for asylum were to be offered temporary status of up to 30 months, with abridged rights and benefits that were regularly reviewed. The threat of removal would hang over their stay. The policy was condemned by the UNHCR for “undermining the 1951 refugee convention and longstanding global cooperation on refugee issues”. The U-turn was announced in a statement from by the immigration minister, Robert Jenrick, released on parliament’s website. He wrote: “We will pause the differentiation policy in the next package of immigration rules changes in July 2023. This means we will stop taking grouping decisions under the differentiated asylum system after these rules changes and those individuals who are successful in their asylum application, including those who are granted humanitarian protection, will receive the same conditions.”

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