UNHCR's priorities for the UK Government
Following the UK general election on June 8th, we outline our six priorities for reform. UNHCR is asking the new UK Government to:
1. INCREASE THE NUMBER OF REFUGEES RESETTLED IN THE UK TO AT LEAST 10,000 A YEAR
UNHCR estimates that the number of people in need of resettlement globally in 2017 is 1.19 million. Our hope is that the government commits meaningfully to addressing these immense needs by resettling at least 10,000 refugees a year. This represents a meaningful but realistic increase over the current commitment; and UNHCR believes that the UK can and is capable of doing more.
We urge the government to consolidate its current resettlement programmes (Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme for Syrians, Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme, Gateway Protection Programme and Mandate Refugee Programme) into a single programme that is flexible and addresses evolving resettlement priorities globally.
This will help ensure consistency in standards of treatment for resettled refugees as well as processing efficiency and responsiveness. The introduction by the UK of a much-needed mechanism to accept an annual quota of emergency resettlement cases is highly encouraged.
2. ALLOW MORE FAMILIES DIVIDED BY CONFLICT TO REUNITE AND LIVE TOGETHER
An increasing number of people are losing their lives in the course of dangerous journeys to reach safety. Legal avenues for refugees seeking protection such as family reunification and community sponsorship save lives and help tackle human trafficking and smuggling.
UNHCR urges the government to increase opportunities for refugee family reunification in the UK by making access to family reunification more practical, broadening the current restrictive criteria and providing practical, financial and legal support to applicants. This includes removing restrictions that currently prevent unaccompanied refugee children in the UK being reunited with family members from abroad.
UNHCR calls on the government to continue expanding the community sponsorship programme by giving it a quota separate from Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme for Syrians and opening the programme up to other nationalities, not just Syrians.
3. REDUCE THE USE OF DETENTION AND SUPPORT ALTERNATIVES
The fundamental rights to liberty and security of person, as well as freedom of movement, apply to asylum-seekers, refugees and stateless people alike. And yet the UK detains strikingly high numbers of asylum-seekers and is one of only a handful of countries without a time limit on immigration detention.
We urge the government to correct this anomaly by introducing a time limit and significantly reducing its reliance on detention.
UNHCR underlines the importance of the government expanding the use of alternatives to immigration detention. Alternatives to detention are proven to be effective in ensuring individuals cooperate with asylum and immigration processes and have achieved high rates of voluntary return for those not in need of international protection. They show that a more humane immigration detention system is compatible with national security concerns.
At the same time alternatives to detention save considerable financial costs while avoiding the long-term and oftentimes devastating human cost of detention.
4. MAINTAINING EQUAL TREATMENT FOR ALL REFUGEES, REGARDLESS OF HOW THEY ARRIVE IN THE UK
The government is called on to maintain full respect for asylum standards and not introduce mechanisms designed to restrict access to protection.
Conflict, violence and persecution around the world have led to the highest levels of displacement on record. We acknowledge that immigration controls will continue to feature prominently over the coming few years as the UK defines its new relationship with the EU.
We emphasize that protecting refugees and ensuring the security of the countries that receive them are compatible goals. UNHCR urges the government to maintain its commitment to the 1951 Refugee Convention, including the fair and equal treatment of all refugees, regardless of their means of arrival in the UK.
5. HELPING REFUGEES IN THE UK TO BETTER INTEGRATE INTO THEIR NEW COMMUNITIES
When refugees come to Britain seeking protection, the ability to learn English and get to know their neighbours are crucial in helping them become active citizens. It is critical that the government strengthens the integration process by evaluating integration and developing a national strategy for refugee integration.
The focus should be on addressing areas critical to refugee integration, including English language, education, employment, social support and family reunification, with consideration given to the engagement of both public bodies and the private sector. The UK should ensure that integration prospects for all refugees, whether they arrived in the UK through a resettlement programme or were recognized as refugees after making asylum claims in the UK, are equal.
Efforts should be made to support integration as early as possible, including during the asylum process. Ultimately, this will allow refugees to give back to the society that has so warmly welcomed them to the fullest extent possible.
We would also urge the government to take a strong stand in addressing hate crime, setting a tone of public debate which fosters a spirit of understanding and community cohesion rather than division.
6. MAINTAIN THE UK'S COMMITMENT TO SPEND 0.7% OF NATIONAL INCOME ON OVERSEAS AID
We encourage the UK to continue to maintain its commitment to spending 0.7% of gross national income on overseas aid. UNHCR stresses the need for continued international support, meeting the needs of refugees and communities hosting them globally.
Timely and adequate support for programmes providing refugees with protection, shelter, education and livelihoods should remain priorities built into the overseas aid strategy of the new UK government.
The UK, as a signatory to the New York Declaration, has signaled its commitment to improved cooperation and responsibility sharing to address global displacement.
UNHCR urges the government to play a leading role in easing pressure on countries hosting the majority of the world’s refugees, enhancing refugee self-reliance, expanding access to third-country solutions and supporting conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity.