Suella Braverman’s speech this week was the latest of a series of cruel and inhumane attacks on people who are forced to move in order to seek safety. In a bizarre and hateful speech, the Home Secretary made a number of wild denouncements of the Refugee Convention, in a transparent and cynical attempt to use the crisis faced by refugees to grab headlines.
Braverman spoke about the need to rewrite the Refugee Convention, evidenced by a number of lies about how the international and domestic refugee systems actually work. Braverman told her audience that the threshold for receiving protection has shifted from ‘persecution’ to ‘discrimination’ and that a ‘well-founded fear’ has shifted ‘toward a ‘credible’ or ‘plausible” fear’. Anybody who works in the asylum system, including Home Office Presenting Officers, government lawyers, judges, asylum seekers and legal representatives, will unanimously tell you this is not true. Asylum applications and appeals are complex matters requiring individuals to demonstrate that they meet a high threshold, often presenting expert evidence of the particular risks that pertain to their individual circumstances. Braverman’s fictitious claims recall Theresa May’s false stories about a man who fought deportation on the basis of his relationship with his cat.
She reserved a particular attack for those who claim asylum on the basis of sexuality or gender. She decried ‘we will not be able to sustain an asylum system if in effect, simply being gay, or a woman, and fearful of discrimination in your country of origin, is sufficient to qualify for protection.’ Put another way: if our asylum system were entirely different from how it is in reality, it would not be sustainable. Anyone who works in this area will tell you that the imaginary asylum system the Home Secretary is describing bears no similarity to our own, and LGBTQI+ people must not only convince sceptical government decision-makers of their sexuality but also evidence that they face a well-founded fear of persecution to qualify for refugee protection in the UK. In 2022, only 1.5% of asylum claims relied upon sexual orientation as part of the basis for the claim, with the top three represented countries being places where homosexuality is punishable by life imprisonment or death. The Home Secretary did not care to recall that many of the states that criminalise homosexuality began doing so under British colonial rule. These laws are a relic of empire and the UK has a responsibility to protect those they punish.
There are plenty of relevant facts that the Home Secretary could have drawn attention to – such as the fact that under her tenure as Home Secretary, the asylum backlog has reached record levels, with more people than ever being made to wait in agonising limbo for years. Or that the UK, Europe and USA take responsibility for a small proportion of refugees, with 70% of those displaced across borders remaining in a neighbouring and inevitably far poorer country. If the Home Secretary wanted to fix the problems in the asylum system and reduce financial pressures, her focus would be on processing claims, granting people leave to remain and allowing them to work whilst waiting for decisions on their claims.
For somebody claiming to be broaching ‘taboo’ issues and bringing fresh political ideas, it was surprising to see the Home Secretary repeat a succession of far-right dog whistles and conspiracy theories that we have heard many times. There was the fear-mongering about communities who live ‘parallel lives’, the ugly reference about the birth-rate of ‘foreign-born mothers’ in the UK, and a sinister warning that cultural change is ‘diluting’ what was there before (in ‘Western’ countries), until ‘eventually it will disappear’ – with more than a shade of the ethno-nationalist ‘great replacement theory’. Throw in a ‘notional’ massive number (Braverman appears to have decided that precisely 10% of the world are refugees) and this was a speech straight from the fascist playbook. It is no surprise that its only supporters appeared to come from a fringe far-right extremist party that campaigns against multiculturalism.
This type of hatred will not win. She has been attacked from all angles, including by her own party. Braverman should take note of the fact that attitudes towards immigration have become considerably more positive in recent years, and there is no appetite for this type of politics. We will continue to defend the fundamental right to claim asylum.
In May, we joined 175 organisations warning the government that their so-called ‘Illegal Migration Bill’ amounted to an effective ban on asylum. As we argued then, we all deserve to live safe from harm, and to be treated with compassion, dignity and respect. We urge politicians to reject the Home Secretary’s divisive approach and defend the Refugee Convention, a vital pillar of our universal human rights and as relevant today as it was when created in the aftermath of the second World War.
This statement was prepared by RAMFEL’s Experts by Experience group, established in September 2022 to influence our campaign work and serve as a solidarity group. The group is currently made up of 35 members, people who themselves are on the 10-year route to settlement. The group meet regularly to discuss and identify key areas of focus, develop RAMFEL’s the strategic direction of the group, and undertake training.
Those who would like to support the group’s campaigning work can do so via this link.
We are a group of people who are on the 10-year route to settlement in the UK. We are worried about the impact that the government’s planned rise in visa fees and the immigration health surcharge will have on us, our families and our children.
The increase in visa fees is unfair and should be condemned. It will really affect a lot of migrants and it is not fair on all of us that have already been in this country for more than 10 years. It is also insensitive and too much to bear with the increases in the cost of living and other economic problems in the country. It is an act of cruelty towards us migrants.
We cannot afford even the current visa fees, which for a single person, is already £2,608 every 2.5 years. This is simply too high. Many among us have families – one member of our group has a family of 6 for and it already costs £15,648 to renew their visas, but this would go up to £23,070 with the increase. This is ridiculous. On top of this, there are legal fees. We are all worried that we are not going to be able to renew our visas, because we do not earn enough and we do not have enough savings. The government should consider people like us who do not have much money but are working every day to support our families.
There are so many other problems with the 10-year route to settlement and it is really difficult. The entire process is tough, and current waiting times for renewals are long because of government delays. This creates a huge headache, and your employer might suspend you without pay while waiting for the decision from the Home Office. This is something you go through every 30 months, so you can never have job security. And on top of that, they want the fees again, each time.
Some of us are still paying back loans of thousands of pounds that we needed to pay for immigration applications and registering our children as British citizens. It means we can’t pay our bills, we can never take our children on holiday, we can’t buy our children the clothing they need.
The government is using migrants as political excuses. One minute they do not want us here in the country, next we are useful when they want to use us to pay for the public sector pay increase.
The impact of the new visa fees will be families driven to impoverishment, increased stress levels and mental health problems, finding the money becomes an obsession. And on top of this, the cost of living crisis. There is also the constant worry of becoming an overstayer because you cannot afford the fees.
Many of us are health workers, and it is particularly unjust that we are made to pay the government’s health surcharge when we are already contributing to the NHS. The government is just robbing Peter to pay Paul, without recognising the positive impact that migrants bring. Most people on the 10-year-route, for instance, work very hard and pay tax, and often still have to work a second job to pay their bills. Migrants with no recourse to public funds worked really hard during Covid, and even though we were scared to leave our homes we did not have a choice. We were on the front lines in large numbers, and those of us that are carers did not get the bonus that NHS staff received. Now visa fees are being increased again, and the same people are being exploited yet again.
The government should reverse this outrageous proposal. At the same time it should reduce the number of times that people have to renew their visas, so that people have more time to save up the thousands of pounds that are needed. Finally, we urge the government to reduce the 10 year route to 5 years, to reduce the burden on us and our families.
You may have seen in the daily mirror, refer to our client's letter to Robert Jenrick. This and his letter are copied below.
Dear Mr Jenrick,
We wanted to share with you our experiences of the UK’s immigration system, having been married to British citizens who have sadly passed away. We know your government has a concession for people in our position that will allow us to stay in the UK, but that if we cannot pay nearly £2,500 we cannot access this concession.
You have said this fee exists, cannot be waived and is so high because we are ‘benefitting’ from the immigration system. We are asking for you to consider our situation and introduce a fee waiver for this concession as otherwise we will never be able to afford it.
We have all made the UK our home, have worked, paid taxes and paid visa application fees. We have paid into the system and it is not our fault that our husbands have passed away and we now face an uncertain future. Widows and widowers are not just numbers or statistics but individuals who have experienced profound loss and are seeking a lifeline to help us move forward. Applying for a fee waiver when we cannot afford thousands of pounds is not about evading responsibility or seeking preferential treatment; it is a plea for compassion and recognition of the extraordinary circumstance that we find ourselves in. We do not feel we are benefitting from anything and it is unfair of you to say this.
Grieving the loss of a loved one is an emotionally challenging experience that requires time and support. The financial burden of immigration fees and the fear of not knowing if we can stay in the UK exacerbates the emotional distress we are already experiencing. We all have children and they have been through enough already but the added pressure we feel is making things even harder for them. They should not be made to feel like they are foreigners in their own country.
It is not realistic to think that we can raise such large sums of money to pay for the application when we are dealing with our loss and raising children single handed. There is no way that we will be able to generate enough money in order to pay you £2,500.
Applying for a fee waiver after the death of our husbands is not just a formality, it represents a lifeline that can alleviate the burden we carry. We want you to please just think about our situation. We feel totally stuck and worried about having to put aside money each month when we are struggling to even feed our children.
We feel that it is important that you understand the reality of our situation and hope you will consider introducing a fee waiver so that we can secure our future in the UK. By doing so, you would be offering a helping hand to bereaved widows who are striving to rebuild their lives.
We would love the chance to meet with you so that you can better understand this issue is having on us.
Three bereaved partners unable to afford the Home Office’s application fees