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Asylum Seekers, Sunak, Truss and Truth

As Sunak and Truss vied to outnasty one another on immigration they were forced to embellish earlier lies because it was far too late to tell party members the truth.

Trusss and Sunak are not ignorant or uninformed. Both were and are surrounded by advisors who know what is fact and what is not. When Truss promised to tackle “illegal migration” and Sunak referred to “boats full of illegal immigrants coming from the safe country of France” both were fully aware those in the boats are not illegal. Putting things honestly, saying that what you mean is that you personally (and as a party) now reject the many international human rights treaties we have signed and the international laws we therefore have agreed to – would mean denying the rhetoric the Tories have relied on for votes for half a decade.

There are some facts and there are some opinions.

Entering the country by boat without permission is legal provided you claim asylum on arrival (98% arriving in small boats do). Last year 64% of those applicants arriving by irregular routes (which simply means not at a recognised and fully staffed port of entry like Heathrow Airport or the port of Dover) were legally granted the right to remain at first application, and half the rest were granted it on appeal. That means they did nothing illegal. The idea that nobody should come in until you have approved them first is opinion. It is based on a belief that, even in a just world in which countries agree to protect the rights of those who need protection from the State of their prior residence – they are someone else’s problem.

Truss and Sunak would like to send them back to France as we used to, because France is a safe country. They suggest that we should have a right to do so and that other countries should be obliged to treat them – but that’s an opinion. The fact is that there is no requirement to claim asylum in any particular country (and who decides where is ‘safe’? Iran probably thinks it’s safe.) The ‘safe country’ idea was a European agreement that all asylum claims were processed once, on behalf of the whole EU, in the first EU country people reached. It made sense since approval left you free to settle in any European country. That’s why in 2018-2020 we could send 70% of small-boaters back to France for assessment (although, if they were approved, they were then free to come here). We are not in the EU now. Our borders, our control, our responsibility. As Brexiteers wanted.

Then the overwhelming numbers, the vast problem. The Home Office claimed in March that 60,000 were expected by boat this year. By Sept 1st with the summer surge over it was still well under 20,000, much like 2021 (28,526). More by boat than 2018, but fewer by air. These are small numbers compared to total immigration, which is 200,000 a year. We are hardly overwhelmed by small boats.

And then the solution. Sunak and Truss pretended to believe that sending people to Rwanda solves this problem humanely, because people will stay there. This is just not credible. Most people in small boats are not from the continent of Africa, they are from the Middle East; Iran (30%), Iraq (21%) and Syria (9%). they choose to come here for reasons of language, connection, family, history. In 2021 the largest African contingent was from Eritrea (11%). The government last examined why our asylum seekers choose Britain in 2002. Surely this information is crucial to any claim that they will stay in Rwanda? In 2002 the main reasons asylum seekers sought protection here was that they saw the UK as safe and decent, that they spoke English and that they had family and friends here.

Does Truss really believe those granted asylum will stay in Rwanda? Did Sunak? Or is it that they don’t care, and are interested only in putting them back on the road and letting the journey do the rest. In 2019, 1 in 18 asylum seekers coming from Libya drowned in the Western Med, whilst 85% of those intercepted by the Libyan coastguard were interned in terrible conditions where most are stuck and many more die.

It’s sad politics when your pitch to be PM is based on pretending you can solve problems you have deliberately sought to inflate with solutions that you know won’t work. It doesn’t bode well for the rest of us.

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