In an open letter to UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd, more than 50 UK organisations working with refugees – including over 20 from Northern Ireland – have called on the Home Office to reverse a new policy aimed at preventing refugees from integrating.
Last month, the Home Office quietly issued new guidance on the process by which refugees already living in the UK apply to stay here permanently. Previously, people recognised as refugees were granted refugee status or humanitarian protection. After this, they were able to apply for permanent settlement (“indefinite leave to remain”) in the UK. However, under the new policy, all those who apply for settlement will be subject to a so called “safe return review” to see if the Home Office can return refugees to that country.
Makhosi Sigabade, a refugee living in Belfast, who is worried what the change would mean for him, said: “After being given a false sense of hope and stability I am being made to relive the nightmares of my past. I am now confronted with a possibility of going back to face the same persecution from which I fled. The system meant to protect people seeking sanctuary threatens to expose them to the dangers they flee.”
Housing4All, a Belfast-based group campaigning for housing rights for asylum seekers and one of the signatories to the letter, called the government’s changes ‘truly inhuman’ and said that it would put refugees ‘in limbo’.
The new policy has attracted concern at the national and international level. The UNHRC condemned the changes, saying they were unnecessary and would have “a serious impact on the wellbeing of refugees and their ability to settle”.
A cross-party report published on the experiences of refugees in the UK has highlighted concerns about the change and called for it to be scrapped. The report by the Westminster All-Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees stated that the uncertainty will have negative effects on refugee’s mental health, their ability to find work, and would “exert specific harm to children in terms of their education and stability”.
In their letter, campaigners have echoed these concerns, and called on the government to grant permanent residency to refugees when their claim is recognised. The call is supported by many frontline organisations working with refugees in Belfast, human rights organisations, community groups and the Student Union of Queen’s University.
Colin Harvey, professor of Human Rights at Queen’s, who added his support to the letter, said: “These are troubling times. The very idea of human rights is under threat. This is nowhere more evident than in the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. In times such as these we must stand together in support of the global regime of refugee protection and we must ensure that the rights of refugees are not undermined.’
To view the open letter and list of signatures in full, please go to http://www.righttoremain.org.uk/blog/ or follow #RebuildingLives on Twitter