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07 October 2015

Why Theresa May’s conference speech is misleading and irresponsible

3 mins

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, addressed the Tory Party Conference in Manchester yesterday on the dangers of immigration. Her take on the impact immigration is having on the UK was both irresponsible and misleading. As Secretary of State for the Home Department, she ought to have known better.

The pretext to Mrs May’s speech was the humanitarian crisis in Syria and the millions displaced by the atrocious war crimes and crimes against humanity being perpetrated by the various actors in that conflict. The subtext however was that there are both good and bad refugees. This is divisive. No refugee is more deserving than the other. No one ‘deserves’ to flee their home, their country and family to preserve their life.

The truth of the matter is that an overwhelming number of asylum seekers are genuine, with claims from nationals of Afghanistan, Eritrea and Syria being the most prolific. By her own admission, approximately half of asylum claims are allowed. If the decision making of Mrs May’s department was to improve, this number could increase. Currently, just under 30% of appeals by refused asylum seekers are allowed, resulting in a grant of refugee status.

Whilst Mrs May tried to convince the audience that she understands the difference between economic migrants and refugees, she showed her ignorance in asserting that the asylum system has long been abused by those wanting to work in the UK. Asylum seekers on the whole are not permitted to work in the UK whilst their claim is pending. Given the backlog in processing claims, with some dating back to 2006, this is not an insignificant period of time.

The Government has, and continues to preside over an asylum system which is not fit for purpose. Similar criticisms were laid at the Home Secretary’s door by John Vine, the previous Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration who stepped down from his term of office six months early, in December 2014. His early departure came amid accusations that publication of his reports on the immigration system was being suppressed.

As a responsible Home Secretary, Mrs May should have used the platform to explain that the UNHCR estimates that there are around 3,000 refugees in and around Calais in need of assistance and that closing our eyes or borders to the problem will not make it go away. She could have also pointed out that despite the ‘swarms’ of people seeking asylum in Europe in recent months, the total number of Syrians claiming asylum in the UK since 2011 is just 5,924  (this does not include the 216 offered resettlement). As a country we are not being inundated and could do much worse than look to our European neighbours for a lesson in humanity.

Mrs May says that without controlled immigration there will be less public support for taking in more refugees. However, removing Mrs May’s toxic rhetoric from the debate would be the best first step.

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