17 August 2020

In response to the government’s dangerous rhetorics surrounding recent Channel crossings, STAR, along with almost 100 civil society groups, Windrush survivors and religious organisations have written a joint letter to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel to demand safe and legal routes now.

The right to asylum is a human right and we believe that people who are fleeing persecution should not be forced into dangerous journeys at the hands of people smugglers that further endanger their lives. Safe and legal routes must be provided to people seeking asylum.

Read the full text of our letter and list of signatories below, and click here to write to your MP urging them to take action.

Dear Priti Patel MP,

We are writing to you regarding the ongoing Channel crossings and the UK government’s response, particularly considering your stated commitment to implementing the Windrush Lessons Learned Review Recommendations.

The small number of people seeking entry to the UK in this way are doing so because there are simply no safe and legal routes of entry to the UK. The majority have family or loved ones in the UK, are at risk of exploitation by people traffickers and smugglers and are fleeing war or persecution. Like you, we would like to see an end to Channel crossings which take place in this way. We do not want anyone to have to risk their lives trying to enter the UK.

Whilst search and rescue operations are essential to prevent further loss of life, deployment of the Navy in the Channel is not a permanent or reasonable solution and will only push people further into the hands of people traffickers. We deplore any suggestion that the Navy should breach international refugee or maritime law by ‘pushing back’ boats seeking to reach safety on our shores.

You will be aware that in 2019 the Foreign Affairs Select Committee – of which you were a member – warned that “a policy that focuses exclusively on closing borders will drive migrants to take more dangerous routes, and push them into the hands of criminal groups.” We are disappointed that the UK government is continuing to pursue this failed approach despite copious evidence and advice presented to the government by the Select Committee and numerous civil society organisations.

We note that this pattern of ignoring expert advice, failing to engage with civil society and branding migrants as “criminal” is the same set of conditions which led to the Windrush scandal. A key recommendation from the Windrush Lessons Learned Review urged government to implement policies based on evidence and transparent decision-making.

Instead of taking a compassionate approach and listening to affected communities and experts, Ministers, the Prime Minister and Home Office officials have responded by seeking to discredit experts, lawyers, and others who have warned of dangerous consequences to the government’s approach. Most notably:

1. A Home Office spokesperson claimed“While we are unable to comment on ongoing legal proceedings, it is the case that the current legal framework is often abused by activist lawyers to frustrate the government’s attempts in this regard.”

Lawyers work within the legal framework set out by Parliament, and act in their clients’ interests. It is extremely dangerous for the executive to attack lawyers for doing their jobs. It is completely unacceptable for the Home Office to mount attacks on the rule of law, and those seeking to enforce it.

2. In response to a thread on social media in which the ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s set out a detailed set of evidence and recommendations from experts on the humane and effective solutions to make refugee journeys safer, an anonymous source within the Home Office said“Priti is working day and night to bring an end to these small boat crossings, which are facilitated by international criminal gangs and are rightly of serious concern to the British people. If that means upsetting the social media team for a brand of overpriced junk food, then so be it.” Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly said “Can I have a large scoop of statistically inaccurate virtue signalling with my grossly overpriced ice cream, please?”

Neither of these ad hominem attacks respond to the evidence or expert recommendations that Ben & Jerry’s referenced in their thread. In the Lessons Learned Review Wendy Williams recommends that “ministers should make clear that they expect officials to seek out a diverse range of voices and prioritise community-focused policy by engaging with communities, civil society and the public.” She also expresses concern at a “a defensive culture in the department, which often defends, deflects and dismisses criticism.” This extraordinary attack from the top levels of government to constructive, evidence-based criticism is not in line with the Windrush review recommendations.

3. Ministers, officials and the Prime Minister have repeatedly referred to the crossings as illegal. As you know, it is legal for a refugee to enter the UK without documents in order to seek sanctuary. As the UK does not provide a visa route that allows entry in order to make a claim for protection, and does not provide adequate resettlement or refugee family reunion, the only way to make a claim is to do so on British soil.

This leaves people with legitimate legal cause to come to the UK and seek humanitarian protection with no legal means of doing so. To brand this as “illegal” or “criminal” activity is irresponsible and wrong and is precisely the same rhetoric that led to the wrongful detention and deportation of the Windrush generation. The government must stop using such language and misstating the law – particularly as both the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and Wendy Williams have pointed out the dangers of wrongly using the language of criminality.

Those who continue to fight for the rights of the Windrush generation, people seeking asylum and migrants recognise this sort of behaviour from government. It is precisely the refusal to listen to evidence and advice, the refusal to recognise the humanity of those affected, and an attitude that treats outside expertise and knowledge as opposition that have led to chaos and dysfunction in the Home Office.

If the lessons of the Windrush scandal are to be learned, and power taken away from people traffickers, the government must now take an approach based on pragmatic and evidence-led solutions. We call on the government to introduce safe and legal routes of entry to the UK, including by introducing Humanitarian Visas, expanding the Family Reunification Rules, and properly funding and extending the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme. We would also like to see the government renew its commitment to the Dubs scheme and work closely with the French government to take shared responsibility for those seeking asylum in the UK, and immediately guarantee an adequate route for all those who are currently eligible to enter the UK under the family reunification provisions of the Dublin regulations who stand to lose that right on 31 December 2020.

We invite you to meet with a wide range of civil society groups to create a safe system for people to come to the UK to claim asylum. This should include members of the Windrush generation, those providing services to people seeking asylum in the UK and in the EU, and migrants who have been affected by the current system.

We hope that we can work together to end the need for dangerous journeys to the UK once and for all.

Yours sincerely,

1. Satbir Singh, Chief Executive, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants
2. Michael Braithwaite, Windrush Survivor & Campaigner
3. Sekeena Muncey & Glenda Andrew, Co-Founders, Preston Windrush Generation Descendants UK
4. Jacqueline McKenzie, Immigration Solicitor, McKenzie Beute & Pope and Centre for Migration Advice and Research
5. Harun Khan, Secretary General, Muslim Council of Britain
6. Paul Parker, Recording Clerk, Quakers in Britain
7. Dr Edie Friedman, Executive Director, Jewish Council for Racial Equality (JCORE)
8. Stephen Hale, CEO, Refugee Action
9. Paul Hook, Director, Asylum Matters
10. Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, CEO, Oxfam GB
11. Dr Zubaida Haque, Interim Director, The Runnymede Trust
12. Dr Wanda Wyporska, Executive Director, The Equality Trust
13. Martha Spurrier, Director, Liberty
14. Sonia Lenegan, Legal Director, Immigration Law Practitioners Association
15. Jennine Walker, Head of UK Legal, Safe Passage International
16. Sian Summers Rees, Chief Officer, City of Sanctuary UK
17. Andrea Cleaver, Interim CEO, Welsh Refugee Council
18. Nicolas Hatton, CEO, The 3Million
19. Josh Hallam, UK Community and Networks Manager, Help Refugees
20. Dr Razia Shariff, CEO, Kent Refugee Action Network
21. Lucila Granada, CEO, Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX)
22. Carol Storer, Interim Director, Legal Action Group
23. Danny Silverstone, Chair, René Cassin
24. Nick Lowles, Chief Executive, HOPE not hate
25. Bethan Lant, Casework, Training and Advocacy Manager, Praxis
26. Neal Lawson, Executive Director, Compass
27. Kate Metcalf, Co-Director, Women’s Environmental Network
28. Dave Fuller, Project Manager, Repowering London
29. Anna Vickerstaff, UK Team Lead, org
30. Lisa Matthews, Co-ordinator, Right to Remain
31. Sarah Story, Director, Refugee Info Bus
32. Marta Welander, Executive Director, Refugee Rights Europe
33. Nick Harborne, CEO, Reading Refugee Support Group
34. Daisy Jacobs and Leyla Mclennan, Co-Directors, Routes
35. Celia Clarke, Director, Bail for Immigration Detainees
36. Dr Mohamed Nasreldin, Director, North of England Refugee Service
37. Nazek Ramadan, Director, Migrant Voice
38. Clare Moseley, CEO, Care4Calais
39. Ros Ereira, Director, Solidarity with Refugees
40. Rachel Oliver, Head of Campaigns, Positive Money
41. Loraine Masiya Mponela, Chair, Coventry Asylum and Refugee Action Group
42. Dorian Leatham, CEO, Migrants’ Rights Network
43. Anthony Johnson, Registered Nurse and Lead Organiser, Nurses United UK
44. Emily Crowley, Chief Executive, Student Action for Refugees
45. Daf Viney, Director of Services, Hackney Migrant Centre
46. Andrea Pisauro, National Coordinator, Take a Break from Brexit
47. Bella Sankey, Director, Detention Action
48. Beth Wilson, Director, Bristol Refugee Rights
49. Cat Hobbs, Director, We Own It
50. Mary Church, Head of Campaigns, Friends of the Earth Scotland
51. Ben Carpenter, CEO, Social Value UK
52. Jonny Willis, CEO, Refugee Youth Service
53. Annie Campbell Viswanathan, Director/Supervising Immigration Caseworker, North Kensington Law Centre
54. Jamie Peters, Interim Director of Campaigning Impact, Friends of the Earth
55. Robert Noyes, Campaigner and Researcher, Platform
56. Tanya Long, Director, Samphire
57. Bill McGuire, Professor Emeritus of Geophysical & Climate Hazards, University College London
58. Anna Jones, Co-Founder, RefuAid
59. Daniel Ashwell, Casework Team Manager, Refugee and Migrant Centre
60. Dr Tytus Murphy, Campaigner, Divest Parliament
61. Miriam Brett, Director of Research and Advocacy, Common Wealth
62. Jonathan Stevenson, Head of Communications, Global Justice Now
63. Anna Miller, Head of Policy and Advocacy, Doctors of the World UK
64. Halaleh Taheri, Founder & Executive Director, Middle Eastern Women and Society Organisation
65. Zrinka Bralo, CEO, Migrants Organise
66. Fatima Ibrahim and Hannah Martin, Co-Executive Directors, Green New Deal UK
67. Green New Deal UK London
68. Green New Deal UK Haringey
69. Richard Williams, Chair, Sanctuary on Sea
70. Ella Ticktin-Smith, Campaigner, UK Student Climate Network
71. Maya Esslemont, Director, After Exploitation
72. Avril Sharp, Policy & Casework Officer, Kalayaan
73. Toni Soni, Centre Director, Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre
74. Julian Prior, Chair of Trustees, NACCOM
75. John Sauven, Executive Director, Greenpeace UK
76. Amanda Janoo, Knowledge & Policy Lead, Wellbeing Economy Alliance
77. Dominique Muller, Policy Director, Labour Behind the Label
78. Migrants in Culture
79. Sarah-Jayne Clifton, Director, Jubilee Debt Campaign
80. Caroline Coombs and Jane Yilmaz, Co-Founders, Reunite Families UK
81. Sarah Teather, Director, Jesuit Refugee Service
82. Lucy Mason, Trainer & Co-Director, Tripod: Training for Creative Social Action
83. Gus Hosein, Executive Director, Privacy International
84. Leila Usmani, Project Development Officer, Race Alliance Wales
85. Tess Berry-Hart, Director, Citizens of the World Choir
86. Janet Veitch, Chair, UK Women’s Budget Group
87. Morten Thaysen, Co-Founder, Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
88. Pankhuri Mehndiratta, Immigration Caseworker, Ashiana Network
89. Libby Freeman, Director, Calais Action
90. Siobhan Hyland and Michael Vaughan, Co-Chairs, Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council
91. Joanne MacInnes, Director, West London Welcome Centre for Refugees and Migrants
92. Suresh Grover, Director, The Monitoring Group
93. Tim Padmore and Iain Solanki-Willats, Campaigners, Climate SOS: Shift our Subsidies
94. Jen Ang, Partner / Director, JustRight Scotland
95. Rossana Leal, Founder & Director, The Refugee Buddy Project: Hastings, Rother and Wealden
96. Women of Colour Global Women Strike
97. Mark Serwotka, General Secretary, PCS
98. Lucy Nabijou, Coordinator, Haringey Welcome
99. Caz Hattam, Director, The Unity Project
100. Leyla Laksari, Director, Living Under One Sun

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