Labour can lead on immigration by reforming the asylum system

by Jack Tunmore

Ed Miliband’s speech in Rochester and Strood this week provided some welcome clarity on Labour’s immigration policy. It is certainly encouraging that he chose to focus on specific and achievable measures that directly affect millions of people: stopping the exploitation of workers and the undercutting of wages will be both progressive and effective, as will closing loopholes that allow agencies to hire only from abroad. A crackdown on illegal immigration as part of his Immigration Reform Bill will no doubt be popular – but Miliband was also at pains to stress that both he and by-election candidate Naushabah Khan were the children of immigrants and were proud of the contribution they and many like them had made.

These clear and concrete policies contrast well with Cameron’s increasingly alarming drift towards Brexit. They are also particularly timely as the whole political spectrum expresses incredulity that the Prime Minister had supposedly just discovered the UK had been landed with a £1.7 billion EU surcharge – Civitas damningly concluded that “this is all a problem of David Cameron’s making”.

Labour now has an opportunity to inject some nuance and decency into the immigration debate. An important start would be a wholesale reappraisal of our asylum system.

That is not to say that the asylum system will be a major election issue; or that such an appraisal would not be difficult. A report from the Migration Observatory published in July noted that attitudes towards immigration are more negative in the UK than they are in the US and much of Europe, with asylum seekers being held in much lower regard than students or high-skilled migrants. Reform of our asylum system is however a chance for Labour to show that we can lead rather than just follow the immigration debate. A balance of compassion and pragmatism is required.

It would be hugely positive, for example, for Labour to lead strongly on the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration John Vine’s report published last week which examined how asylum claims made on the grounds of sexual orientation are handled by the Home Office. To summarise: they are handled disgracefully, with “intrusive” interviews that sometimes even question the validity of same-sex relationships. Such questioning has no place in our society and Labour should be saying so loud and clear.

We should also make the case that it makes no sense for failed asylum seekers to have to use the so-called ‘Azure’ card to spend the £35.39 they are given by the state each week. The cards often do not work, a vast majority of users have experienced abuse when they try to use them and they cannot be used for travel or meagre comforts. Despite the inevitable protests that claim asylum seekers will use cash to smoke and drink their way through the week, we should press for the cards to be scrapped.

The scope of the reappraisal would have to go much further and address the fact that we regularly deport asylum seekers to countries where they will probably face extreme violence. The UK continues to deport Tamils to Sri Lanka despite compelling evidence that many face torture and imprisonment on their return. Labour would have good reason to question this practice in light of the fact that Home Office officials are rewarded with gift vouchers, cash bonuses and extra holiday if they turn down 70% of asylum appeals.

This would not of course preclude Labour from committing to reduce the number of foreign prisoners in our jails – Shadow Immigration Minister David Hanson has rightly pointed out that such deportations have gone down significantly since 2010. Serious commitments to clamp down on fraud are also needed. The same Inspector Vine who highlighted poor treatment of asylum seekers by the Home Office has also roundly criticised the “unacceptable” failure of the current government to stop fraudulent claims on the grounds of financial destitution. Yvette Cooper has made further inroads by sensibly arguing for the government to be more diligent in acting upon the Dublin agreement, ensuring that asylum seekers have their claims assessed and their care paid for in the country that was their ‘point of entry.’

There is little doubt that in the current climate radical improvements to our asylum system would be widely challenged and in some quarters derided. We would to some extent rely on attempts to reframe the debate and highlight our history of welcoming those who have been persecuted in their own countries. Now that we have clarity on Miliband’s Immigration Reform Bill, however, we should push forward and show that we are both pragmatic and compassionate.

Jack Tunmore is a Labour campaigner

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7 Responses to “Labour can lead on immigration by reforming the asylum system”

  1. Tafia says:

    Tinkering with the asylum system is not going to address joe public’s concerns with immigration – as you very well know asylum seekers and immigrants are two entirely different things. And the number that claim it on the grounds of sexual orientation is miniscule in comparison to the overall level of immigration anyway.

    Asylum seekers must face robust questioning over that claim otherwise if you just accept what they say you will encourage more people to use that reason.

    What needs to be done is one application, one Appeal and immediate eviction from the UK if you lose the claim and the Appeal. The process needs to be speeded up and applications dealt with within a couple of months at most.

  2. Madasafish says:

    I have sincerely tried to understand this article…and frankly find it … well .. kind of puzzling – for want of a much ruder phrase.

    A crackdown on illegal immigration as part of his Immigration Reform Bill will no doubt be popular” is only possible by increasing Border Controls – a lot – and rewriting the Human Rights Act to prevent multiple appeals based on children, marriage etc.

    “This would not of course preclude Labour from committing to reduce the number of foreign prisoners in our jails ” – well as many of them commit crimes, may we hear what he proposes? A twin tier court system with worse penalties for UK citizens.

    And the rest appears intent on encouraging more immigrants.

    Brave words.. brave policies.. try them at the next GE and it will be interesting to see the results.. I will imagine UKIP will become the the major Opposition to a Tory Government.

  3. swatantra says:

    Fewer civil wars in the Middle East and developing countries and E Europe would lead to fewer refugees and asylum seekers. And we could do a lot to prevent those civil wars happening. Its surprising the power that money has, and simply by refusing all aid, and if every country closed its borders, we can bring a conflict country to its knees and make the combatants see sense and find an internal solution. Accepting asylum seekers only prolongs the agony for the rest.
    Its the big stick approach and it can work, and IU’m begining to believe it is the only solution. The govt of any country has a responsibility to its own people, and must be made to face up to that responsibility.

  4. Vern says:

    And you think that peddling this clap trap will appeal to those labour voters who might be teetering come Spring next year. Sounds like the fluffy sort of nonsense that got us all in to this mess in the first place.
    Stop being New Labour and start listening

  5. John Reid says:

    Vern, I suggest you read, Mad as a Fish Swatantra and Tafias replies, the idea that new labour is some how critical of. ed miliband not doing enough to address concerns on Immigration is daft, it was Blaor who wanted unlimited immigration, change the electorate toget Labour a better chance at the polls, and also immigration cheap wages for the bosses, as for new Labour, the Toroes haven’t won an election since new Labour, Ed is currently on 31% in the polls, losing working class votes in every where except Central London, by the bucket load

  6. Madasafish says:

    I usually chat with checkout ladies at Asda and Sainsbury’s when shopping (Aldi ones don’t have time to chat).

    I usually ask them how they are and wait to see what develops. I never ever talk politics: it’s up to them to decide what to talk about. As I have done all the family hopping for years, they know my face. The only political issues raised are:

    Two of them have raised the issue of immigration very strongly. I admit I was surprised at the depth of feeling revealed.

    And I have a near neighbour – a building labourer – waiting for a pacemaker who complains of delays but states he has seen Poles and other immigrants demanding loudly to be admitted to hospital at once and jumping the queue.

    I have not encountered such hostility to immigrants before in 30 odd years of living here..

    None of the above could be described as anything but typical Labour voters (Stoke on Trent where it occurs is solid Labour)

  7. Landless Peasant says:

    We should not allow racism and ungrounded xenophobia to influence Labour policy and to undermine British immigration laws or Human Rights. Stop bashing the foreigners. The Rich are our enemy.

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