‘Too slow and too narrow’ says legal profession of the government’s refugee policy

Labour Party

A group of 300 members of the legal profession have signed an open letter criticising the government’s poor response to the migrant crisis.

The letter, which contains high profile signatories including judges, barristers, solicitors, law academics and  Queen’s Counsel, is an unprecedented move by the group. Not only is such an intervention so unusual, not least because the letter contained so many high profile signatories, but the tone of it is so forthright, or as the BBC’s legal correspondent, Clive Coleman, said “blunt”.

It criticised both the government’s slow response to the crisis and the fact it is only prepared to accept just 20,000 refugees into the UK. This compares with other EU countries, such as Germany who has plans to accept around 85,000.

The letter called the government’s response to the crisis ‘too slow and too narrow’ and said that plans to accept 20,000 refugees over five years was not good enough.

Among the action they called for was to suspend the Dublin system whereby refugees are required to register and claim asylum in the first country in which they arrive.

The problem with the current system, the group said, is that registration centres in certain countries are collapsing under the pressure. The centres are no longer fit for purpose and cannot cope with the volume of people. The letter stated: “in certain member states, particularly at the EU’s periphery, reception conditions have collapsed and determination procedures are rudimentary”.

The letter also outlines concern for the safe passage of the refugees and suggests the lack of safe routes makes them vulnerable to people smugglers. It suggests an action plan to help ensure that refugees have a safe passage of travel: “One way of doing this”, the letter describes, “would be to create a system of ‘humanitarian visas’ so that refugees did not have to undertake dangerous journeys to reach Europe.”

In my own work in the European Parliament, I have been focusing on the situation of women refugees and asylum seekers, as rapporteur on the Women’s Rights Committee and have called for safe and legal routes to Europe. I believe this is the most effective way of combating unscrupulous people smugglers.

The signatories, such as Sir Stephen Sedley, former Lord Justice of the Court of Appeal, are completely right that the UK is simply not doing enough and those such as Sir Stephen insist “we can and should be doing better.”