Campaigners across Kent, including Canterbury MP Rosie Duffield and Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin Bishop of Dover, urge the Home Secretary to provide safe and legal routes in the county for child claimants unaccompanied asylum.
It comes as the government moves forward with its new immigration plan, which will see a major overhaul of the system and tighter restrictions on those attempting to cross the Channel.
The government’s new immigration plan includes new measures that mean those who get their asylum claim will only be granted temporary protection status for 30 months, which is subject to “reassessment for removal.” .
Under Boris Johnson’s leadership, there have been a number of attempts to curb crossings over the past 12 months, including a ‘clandestine threat commander’ who was appointed last summer.
But activists across the county are concerned about the lack of details on safe and ‘legal’ routes to reach the UK – which they say is the only way to stop dangerous crossings from France .
The open letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel was signed by Kent residents from 12 different groups, as well as Faversham City Council.
He urges the government to rethink proposed legislation which he says fails to protect the rights of refugees under international law.
The letter also calls on the government to share responsibility for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children more equitably between UK local authorities.
Support for a more equal share is nothing new – in 2020 Kent County Council was forced to temporarily postpone care for newcomers due to the sheer numbers already in their care.
Valerie Jeffries, of Faversham and Villages Refugee Solidarity Group, said: “The immigration plan is unworkable and cannot achieve the government’s goal of preventing young people from being exploited by ruthless criminals.
“Since the government has not outlined any safe and legal routes available to them, more refugee children will take dangerous journeys to find safety.
“Trafficking of young asylum seekers by boat and truck to Kent will continue.”
The government’s new immigration plan, which is nearing the end of a six-week consultation period, contains the word “illegal” no less than 73 times.
But under international law, there is no such thing as an “ illegal ” asylum seeker – and the government’s use of the term has been criticized for encouraging hostility towards those fleeing war and persecution in their country of origin.
Speaking to KentOnline last summer, Clare Moseley, founder of Care4Calais, said: “Our government has thrown the word ‘illegal immigrant’ into the public face for a year now and it is even more inaccurate.
“The Refugee Act recognizes that if you want to enter the UK to seek asylum you have to do so by irregular means, and if you do it does not jeopardize your asylum claim.
“I think it’s very irresponsible because it suggests these people are criminals – Boris Johnson even called them criminals the other day.
“It’s even worse than anything the media can do and to be perfectly honest I’m horrified.”
Another organization that signed the open letter is the Kent Refugee Action Network.
Osama Sharkia, a young ambassador for the organization, has first-hand experience of the danger children face without a safe alternative to reach the UK.
He said: “The new immigration plan is a big shock. It puts our lives, the lives of our friends and the lives of our families in real danger.
“They still use these roads to seek refuge in the UK and this plan only forces them to come to terms with their fate in their countries, and does not give them the chance to survive the persecution they face in their homes.”
“It puts our life, that of our friends and that of our family in real danger …”
Faversham Town Councilor Carole Jackson said: “I am concerned about the Home Secretary’s desire to overhaul the current asylum system in the UK. We must maintain adequate safeguards for all vulnerable refugees who are in immediate danger in their own nation state.
“The Home Office program offers more hostility and prejudice towards refugees, especially unaccompanied children. I believe it is our responsibility to increase enrollment, and all parts of the Kingdom- Uni should be ready to welcome them. “
Kent’s place at the heart of the asylum debate has intensified over the past six months, following controversy over conditions at Napier Barracks in Folkestone – where accommodation for asylum seekers has been looming large ‘subject to scrutiny.
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