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BASW’s opposition to ‘outsourcing’ asylum seekers to Rwanda and Ukraine refugee crisis update

BASW will continue to advocate and lobby for the human rights of all refugees and migrants

As the war in Ukraine and the displacement of people in huge numbers in Europe continues, and as the UK government starts to implement its widely resisted 2022 immigration legislation - including sending asylum seekers deemed ‘illegal’ to Rwanda - BASW will continue to comment regularly and lobby for human rights of all refugees and migrants.

We remain deeply concerned about and in opposition to the UK Government’s overall approach to people seeking sanctuary - and to the flouting of international obligations. 

The drivers of migration worldwide are numerous: war, famine, climate change, economic failures, oppressive and violent regimes. There is a huge need for international cooperation to uphold the UN Refugee Convention first created in the migration aftermath of the second world war. The UK receives and accepts a proportionately very small number of refugees and asylum seekers, and current government policy is to drive it down further, as world migration increases. 

This is exemplified in the obstacles ‘baked in’ to the ineffective Homes for Ukraine hosting scheme, and in the fact that thousands of people coming to the UK under the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme remain in hotels and hostels.

We will continue to provide support and guidance on the role of social workers in working with refugees and asylum seekers in the UK and support our social work colleagues internationally. Our updates will continue regularly to cover the Ukraine situation alongside other urgent challenges.

BASW’s opposition to ‘outsourcing’ asylum seekers to Rwanda

BASW is utterly opposed to the UK government’s policy which deems some routes to asylum in the UK ‘illegal’ and as justification for removal to Rwanda to be ‘processed’. 

This will be on a one-way ticket, irrespective of the outcome of their claim. If asylum seekers are successful in their claim they will be resettled in Rwanda for five years. The fate of others is unclear.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is "firmly opposed" to the policy - calling it unlawful, prejudiced and impractical.

The UK assistant high commissioner Gillian Triggs said the United Kingdom was "attempting to shift its burden to a developing country" and that the policy "would not comply with the UK's international legal responsibilities". Triggs has called for more options for legal immigration to be introduced to the United Kingdom. Indeed, the UK takes a disproportionately small number of refugees relative to its size, population and wealth.

At the time of writing, a largely empty first flight to Rwanda may take off while extensive efforts are underway to resist the removals through judicial means, lobbying and protest.

Social work with refugees and asylum seekers in the UK, in line with our Code of Ethics, needs to conform to the ethics and legalities rooted in international conventions of rights. The work being developed in response to the Ukraine crisis (see below) will add to our guidance for social workers working with refugees from all places, who should have access to the same inalienable and indivisible human rights.

Social workers can play a key role in humanising and striving for a compassionate immigration system through practice, influencing local policies and raising issues with politicians and national policymakers. We encourage members to write to their MPs and local councillors about the inadequacy, lack of proper resourcing and lack of compassion within recent immigration policies.

Rwanda deportations: BASW UK statement

This policy is a breach of international standards, is unethical and is in breach of the UK’s principle of law.

In April, the UK Government announced that they were moving ahead with plans to send asylum-seekers arriving in the UK to Rwanda for processing.

As more details of these plans emerged, it was revealed that if their asylum claim was successful, they would not have the right to return to the UK and would instead be granted asylum in Rwanda.

This policy is a breach of international standards, is unethical and is in breach of the UK’s principle of law.  It is also hugely expensive and ineffective. It is in breach of international standards since there is a long-established norm in the global community that asylum seekers choose in which country they wish to seek sanctuary.

It is in breach of the UK’s principle of law because recourse to the courts is the right of every individual and this right cannot be exercised from Rwanda. It is unethical because the UK is deporting the most vulnerable people. It is hugely expensive because the Government of Rwanda is being paid to accept this group and then individuals then have to be flown out on a specially chartered flight.

The UK Government's stated aim is that it will deter asylum seekers from crossing the channel in small boats and deter people smugglers. However, since the policy was first trailed the number of asylum seekers crossing the channel has gone up, and with it the profits of the people smugglers.

This policy has united people in opposition across the spectrum. While the plans have been opposed by many organisations, including BASW, recent critics have included Prince Charles and Bishops in the Church of England.

Age assessments

Many asylum seekers are unaccompanied children. Children have distinct needs and therefore distinct rights. This principle is enshrined in the Children Act 1989 in England and Wales and related legislation across the nations.

Age assessments are undertaken by social workers to determine whether the individual is a child (i.e. under 18) and to therefore determine how their needs are best met. It was not clear how an age-disputed person who is deported to Rwanda and then subsequently is confirmed to be a child can have their needs met.

There were fears that the Home Office would include age-disputed in the removal flights, and these fears became reality as it was found that the Home Office had detained three age-disputed children that they declared to be adults and were booked for the deportation flight. After legal action, all three have now been told they will not be on this flight.

Campaigners have challenged the UK Government's plans to remove asylum-seekers to Rwanda in the courts, arguing that the plans should be shelved until the judicial review of the Home Office plans which is scheduled to take place in July. This challenge failed, and it failed once again on appeal.

Legal representatives acting on behalf of individuals have had more success in stopping deportations, with many asylum seekers having their tickets to Rwanda cancelled. There are still several people scheduled to be on the flight.

This policy is not only an attack on asylum seekers. It is an attack on the rights of children, the rule of law, and international standards. BASW will continue to campaign to stop this policy.

Ukraine refugee crisis update

Members working group

A member 'task and finish' group has been established to shape BASW’s ongoing work to support Ukrainian refugees and positions taken on the situation. 

For more information about this group or to contribute in other ways (including sending good practice examples), please email: policy@basw.co.uk .

Resources and statements on the Ukraine situation will promote principles and practices relevant to all refugee and asylum situations and will be developed in line with our Code of Ethics and our position on equality, diversity and inclusion. The group is prioritising:

  • Overarching safeguarding-focused guidance and practice resources for social workers (and colleagues in other disciplines and roles) across the UK. This will include initial assessments and ongoing safeguarding risks within the home hosting schemes. We will avoid duplicating resources and share other resources already produced.
  • Guidance on good practice in undertaking social work assessments (e.g., of families in Ukraine or border countries) online.
  • Liaising with social work colleagues in Ukraine and border countries to ensure information on Ukraine law, practice and cultural norms is available and integrated into the UK social work response.

Ongoing lobbying of Government

BASW remains deeply concerned about the way in which the Homes for Ukraine system is operating, without a safe system of matching. After eight weeks, we've finally had a response to our letter to Michael Gove from the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (please see below).

This does not provide much new information; our concerns about undue bureaucracy, and lack of process for safeguarding refugees and preparing hosts remains.

Social work in Ukraine and on the borders

BASW continues to liaise closely with colleagues in Europe working on the borders of Ukraine to support and accommodate refugees, particularly those with specific health and care needs and unaccompanied children and young people.  

Over the coming weeks, we will be discussing options to provide further practical, professional and moral support to Ukrainian social workers and the social services system still operating in war conditions. We will be again considering how we might use the BASW International Development Fund in this situation.

Letter from UK Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

Thank you for your letter of 6 April about the Homes for Ukraine Scheme. 

Please accept my apologies for the severe delay in responding to you. We have received a large amount of correspondence since we launched the Homes for Ukraine scheme. 

The need to help Ukrainian families was urgent and the scheme and online portals were set up rapidly to ensure we could start to help people as soon as possible. The Visa process continues to be refined to ensure we get people into the UK as quickly as possible while ensuring the safety of Ukrainians and sponsors. A recent change has meant those with valid Ukrainian passports are able to apply for a visa online without visiting a Visa Application Centre (VAC) and submit their biometric information. Once in the country, Ukrainians will need to submit their biometric information within 6 months of arrival, which will finalise their leave to remain for 3 years. For those without valid passports who are required to attend a VAC to provide biometrics, we have surged staff to application centres to process them as quickly as possible.

There is no single route to matching, and both the sponsor and guest could use a number of channels to find a match. Through this scheme, organisations can also play a role in connecting individual sponsors with those who wish to be sponsored. Organisations that are able to responsibly and safely match potential sponsors within their networks and communities with displaced people coming from Ukraine are encouraged to do so. We have produced guidance for matching organisations which can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/homes-for-ukraine-guidance-for-matching-organisations 

Irrespective of how matches are made, security checks are carried out on both the Ukrainian guest(s) and the UK sponsor(s). Only once both sponsor(s) and guest(s) have passed the checks will the Home Office issue the guest with a permit to travel. In addition, councils are required to undertake accommodation and DBS criminal record checks for all adults (16 and over) in the sponsor household. The level of check is determined by the age and needs of the guests

We have produced guidance for councils on the crucial role they will play in supporting the Homes for Ukraine scheme which can be found online: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/homes-for-ukraine-guidance-for-councils 

We have been overwhelmed with the generosity of the British public and their offers of support and I thank you for writing to me to raise these very important issues.

Lord Harrington