Suella Braverman's talk of refugee 'invasion' shows how low Britain has sunk – Ian Swanson
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UK ministers like to say that Britain has a proud record of welcoming refugees. But Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s description of people coming across the Channel in small boats as an “invasion” and the scandal over the appalling conditions at the Manston asylum processing centre show that current policy towards refugees is anything but welcoming.
More than 4,000 men, women and children were crowded into accommodation intended for 1,600 at the former military base near Ramsgate in Kent. The centre is meant to house people for no more than 24 hours, but many were there for weeks. They had to sleep on the floor and make do with inadequate facilities. They complained the food was cold and insufficient.
One young girl threw a message in a bottle over the fence, likening the centre to a prison and saying pregnant women and sick people were among those being held. And when the Home Office responded to the criticism of overcrowding by sending in coaches to bus people out of Manston, it emerged many were taken to central London and dumped with nowhere to stay.
These are people who have fled cruel wars and brutal regimes and risked their lives seeking safety on our shores. If the government had its way, the next stop for them would be Rwanda. It’s only thanks to legal challenges that the attempt to transfer our responsibilities for people seeking asylum to a far-away African country with a dodgy human rights record was halted. Ms Braverman has said it is her dream to see a plane load of refugees taking off for Rwanda, but the policy of outsourcing our duty of compassion is also backed by Rishi Sunak and the rest of the government. Indeed it has been reported that talks are under way to expand the scheme to include Belize, Paraguay and Peru.
Around 40,000 people have arrived in the UK this year in small boats. The dangerous crossing by inflatable has now replaced stowing away in lorries as the favoured route. The number may seem high, but 17 other European countries had more asylum applications per capita last year – Cyprus topped the list with 153 applicants per 10,000 people, Germany had 23, France 18 and Britain just eight. The vast majority of those who come to the UK seeking asylum come from Afghanistan, Syria, Iran or Iraq and most of them are granted refugee status. Indeed, three quarters of all those seeking asylum are successful.
But the government is failing to process asylum applications quickly enough – 96 per cent of people who arrived in small boats last year are still waiting for decision. And while they wait they are not allowed to work and are left to survive on less than £6 a day, when they could be putting their skills and talents to good use and paying taxes too.
A sensible policy on asylum would establish safe routes so refugees can come here without risking their lives in the Channel. Britain was one of the founding signatories of the 1951 Refugee Convention, which is something to be proud of. But that was 70 years ago. The country’s current policy and behaviour towards refugees is something we can only be ashamed of.