Refugee women and children ‘at risk of being abandoned’ in Home Office policy shift


Thousands of women and child refugees will be abandoned if the government’s New Plan for Immigration goes ahead, according to research.

If agreed by parliament, the rules would mean that most people who would currently be accepted as refugees – meaning those confirmed to have fled war or persecution following rigorous official checks – would no longer have their rights recognised in the UK due to their method of arrival. Half of those would be women and children.

A coalition of refugee organisations and human rights campaigners is urging the government to rethink the proposed policy shift.

According to analysis of published government data, two in three women and children who have been accepted by the UK as refugees would have been turned away under the proposed changes to the asylum system. Women and children make up half of people accepted as refugees each year in the UK.

The research was carried out by Together With Refugees, a coalition of more than 200 national and local organisations, refugees and others, founded by Asylum Matters, British Red Cross, Freedom from Torture, Refugee Action, the Refugee Council and the Scottish Refugee Council.

It is calling for a more effective, fair and humane approach to the UK’s asylum system.

The campaign’s polling has found that two in three Britons (64%) agree that the UK should protect refugees fleeing war and persecution.

Sabir Zazai, Together With Refugees spokesperson, chief executive of Scottish Refugee Council and a refugee himself, said: “Abandoning people fleeing war and persecution, including women and children, is not who we are in the UK. These are mothers escaping war-torn Syria, women fleeing sexual violence in Congo or children escaping lifelong conscription into the military in Eritrea.”

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The analysis of official figures found that in recent years the top five countries people flee from and are accepted as refugees in the UK are: Iran, for fear of torture, violence and persecution; Sudan, due to conflict, particularly in Darfur; Syria, where war has torn the country apart for a decade; Eritrea, to escape enforced conscription into the military or civil service indefinitely; and Afghanistan, to flee conflict and threats from the Taliban.

Almost nine out of 10 (85%) of the world’s refugees are hosted by developing countries and seven out of 10 (73%) live in neighbouring countries to their country of origin. In Europe, many countries receive more applications for asylum than the UK. In 2020, Germany, France and Spain each received approximately three times the applications of the UK.

Analysis of Home Office data by the Refugee Council found that on average, 15,410 people were granted refugee status each year from 2015-20. Based on the claim in the New Immigration Plan that “for the year ending September 2019, more than 60% of those claims were from people who are thought to have entered the UK illegally”, it is projected that 9,246 of these would no longer be accepted as refugees under the new rules.

Analysis of Home Office data by the Refugee Council found that in total 59,941 people received an initial decision grant of protection (refugee status or humanitarian protection) between 2015 and 2020. The total number of women and children granted status is 29,882. This equates to 50% of the total.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We have a responsibility to put the New Plan for Immigration into action so that we can fix the broken asylum system, helping people based on need, not the ability to pay people smugglers.

“People should be reassured by our track record – since 2015 we have resettled over 25,000 vulnerable refugees, many women and children so they can rebuild their lives here.

“We will continue to work closely with the UNHCR to ensure those in greatest need get our support. We make no apology for seeking to fix a system which is being exploited by human traffickers, who are encouraging women and children to risk their lives crossing the Channel.”



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