Tough UK visa policies prioritised over coronavirus by Home Office

Sanwar Ali comment:

There has been a great deal of criticism of the hostile environment policy at UK visas of the Home Office, originally introduced by Theresa May who was at the time in 2012 the Conservative Home Secretary.  Numerous scandals include the well known Windrush scandal where many people of Caribbean ancestry were badly treated by the Home Office, and in some cases deported.   There have also been other allegations of discrimination against the Home Office and an organisation sponsored by them.  Staff at the Home Office and Africans have complained about discrimination. 

Sometimes there is an issue that public sector organisations are more concerned about their own interests rather than the interests of the public.  Some aspects of this were caricatured in the popular vintage comedy series "Yes Minister" by the manipulative top civil servant character in the show "Sir Humphrey Appleby".

A number of leading charities have accused Home Office officials of prioritising tough UK visa and immigration policies over public health, amid coronavirus (COVID-19).

The Home Office recently confirmed that asylum seekers would still need to file a claim to remain in the UK, in person, sparking criticism over fundamental failures to adapt immigration processes to safeguard public health, amid the pandemic.

Charities have slammed the Home Office for seemingly ‘bending over backwards’ to maintain hostile UK immigration policies with no regard for the wellbeing of people’s health. In a recent report published by The Independent, it was revealed that asylum seekers were being forced to choose between travelling to London or missing out on invaluable support.

A failure to provide an alternative way for asylum seekers to submit a claim to remain in the UK, other than travelling to London, has been widely condemned.

Additional locations opened for Asylum seeker meetings

On 22 April, the Home Office announced that additional locations had been opened, with limited services, in Belfast, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool and Solihull, to register asylum claims.

The government agency said: “These changes are contingency measures put in place during the epidemic to fulfil the UK’s statutory requirement to register asylum claims.”

While campaigners acknowledged that opening additional locations would mean people travelling shorter distances, they argued that in some cases people would still be forced to travel further and through areas of the UK that are busier.

Campaigners are urging the Home Office to allow people to register an asylum claim remotely while strict coronavirus lockdown measures are in place. 

People should not be forced to travel

Amnesty UK’s refugee and migrant rights programme director, Steve Valdez-Symonds, told The Independent: “Opening additional locations fails to address the issue. It makes absolutely no sense for the Home Office to be insisting on people travelling to make any form of application at this time.

“They should be thinking about how to ensure everybody can do the things that are essential for everybody’s health and welfare. Asking people seeking asylum to travel to make an asylum claim is not doing that,” Valdez-Symonds said.

Policy manager at the Refugee Council, Judith Dennis, echoed Mr Valdez-Symonds comments, saying: “It’s clearly not safe for people seeking asylum to travel on public transport during a pandemic to these new regional intake units, which are not on most people’s doorsteps and could require long journeys through busy areas.

“It seems entirely sensible that asylum claims could be made remotely during lockdown, and it’s not clear why the Home Office hasn’t set up a system to facilitate this,” Dennis said

Home Office facing criticism over coronavirus response

The Home Office has faced heavy criticism in recent weeks for a number of failures in adapting its policies in accordance with public health guidance, amid the coronavirus. Workpermit.com recently reported that the government agency was causing foreign NHS doctors and nurses ‘unnecessary stress’ over free UK visa extensions.

The government agency has also come under fire for ordering some people to leave the UK, despite many countries imposing travel restrictions. Workpermit.com recently reported on the case of an elderly lung cancer patient, who was told to return home to the Ukraine, despite there being a ban on air travel to the Black Sea state.

Mr Valdez-Symonds said: “The Home Office is fundamentally failing to evaluate what the situation is now and think about what that means, what power and responsibilities it has and how they can best be used. I think it’s pretty shocking that we’re weeks into this and still the Home Office will not fundamentally rethink what it’s about.”

“It’s basically bending over backwards trying to do the same old thing for the same old reason with as little change to its behaviour as it can. It’s the same old culture that has been underlying why our immigration system is so bad, so disrespectful, of the people most affected by them. It doesn’t care about people, it cares about its preconceptions about how to have tough immigration and asylum policies and practices,” Valdez-Symonds added.

A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “In these unprecedented times, the government has adapted its services to keep support in place for vulnerable people like asylum seekers. The new locations across the UK mean they travel short distances for appointments and adhere to social distancing guidelines.”

Coronavirus in the UK

Following his return to work on 27 April, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged the nation to ‘stick with the lockdown,’ insisting that the country is ‘winning its first battle against the virus, but there’s work to be done.’

The UK now has the fifth highest number of coronavirus cases (161,145 as of 29 April) and deaths related to the disease (21,678 as of 29 April).

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