UK has failed to provide any new ‘safe and legal’ routes for migrants

Despite calls for new routes, report proposes a cap on refugee numbers

The UK is proposing a cap on refugee numbers as it fails to identify any new routes for people seeking safe passage to the country. Wiktor Szymanowicz/Future Publishing via Getty Images
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Britain has failed to create any new safe and legal routes into the UK for migrants, its long-awaited report published on Thursday has revealed.

The government had promised six months ago to outline existing and new route options but the measures proposed in the report include a cap on refugee numbers and a pledge to explore alternatives for those with skills rather than proposals for additional avenues into the country.

It comes as the government faced mounting pressure to create more safe passages to help those fleeing persecution and war after its Illegal Migration Act, which became law last July, prevented anyone entering the UK irregularly from claiming asylum.

Its own amendment under the bill required it to publish a review of existing pathways and to “specify additional safe and legal routes”.

In the report the Home Office reveals it will introduce a cap on refugee numbers by 2025 and will publish a draft proposal on numbers by the Spring.

"Through the introduction of an annual cap, we will revert to the approach where refugees can come to the UK when a local authority is able to accommodate them," it said.

"This will in turn provide clarity and certainty to United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) on the number of refugees that the UK will be able to take in future years – introducing a quota for the first time.

"As we revert to the sustainable management and operation of our safe and legal routes, alongside the ongoing concerted effort to bear down on extremely resource-consuming illegal migration, we will be able to develop greater safe and legal opportunities."

What does success mean to UK refugees?

What does success mean to UK refugees?

Since 2015, the UK has offered over half a million people safe and legal routes into the UK, including through its Afghanistan, Ukraine and Hong Kong routes.

It is presently the sixth largest recipient of UNHCR referred refugees, third only to Sweden and Germany in Europe.

But the government's report claims growing pressure due to illegal migrants has placed a strain on the system and caps are necessary to make it workable.

"These routes have provided a safe and legal route to the UK for hundreds of thousands of people in need of either temporary sanctuary in the context of Ukraine or permanent relocation to the UK (Hong Kong, Afghanistan).

"These routes are some of the most generous in UK history and we should rightly be proud of the safe haven the UK has provided to those in the greatest need. The large number of arrivals who have come to the UK through these routes has, however, impacted on housing and other public services at a time when these services are already under strain.

"Moreover, the system has simultaneously been impacted by the significant increase in illegal migration in recent years. This has had a combined effect of negatively impacting the UK’s ability to resettle refugees as this is dependent on local authority capacity to accommodate, welcome and integrate refugees.

"In line with the government’s ambitions to tackle illegal immigration, UK officials are working to return safe and legal routes to a model which will allow us to expand our reach globally."

It has raised the possibility of piloting an Emergency Resettlement Mechanism to allow it to "resettle certain cases, where necessary and requested by UNHCR, faster" and to work with new partners and community sponsorship schemes.

"We could also explore the introduction of new referral partners which would allow us to support a wider set of people from overseas including, of particular interest, those groups for whom UNHCR doesn’t currently have access, potentially including those currently at risk in their home country," it said.

"Such an approach could enable us to operate more flexibly in a crisis and to respond to specific geopolitical contexts building on the UK’s strong track record of providing protection to those most in need.

"Under the New Plan for Immigration, the UK committed to grow the number of refugees resettled via Community Sponsorship. We will look at how we build on the success of the Ukraine schemes. This could include looking at who can be sponsored, the ease of becoming a sponsor and how to give communities a say on who they support. This will help to further grow the scheme and to build our long-term offer to some of those most in need across the globe."

It has also pledged to look at pathways for refugees who have "the skills and expertise that the UK can benefit from".

The move would compliment is displaced talent mobility initiative which has seen the health service offer visas to medical staff

It is also looking to build on the work of universities to offer refugees skills.

"This could also include building on the work that universities across the UK are already doing to support refugees so that they have the qualifications, skills and experience to help rebuild their countries when the time comes," it added.

Updated: January 11, 2024, 3:07 PM