NACCOM has supported an open letter coordinated by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) and signed by 99 other civil society groups, Windrush survivors and religious organisations, to demand safe and legal routes now, in response to the government’s dangerous rhetoric surrounding recent Channel crossings.

The letter highlights the fact that people seeking protection in the UK can only do so once they reach UK soil. The lack of safe and legal routes by which to reach the UK means that people are pushed into the hands of people smugglers and forced to take dangerous journeys to claim asylum here.

In its response to Channel crossings, the government has so far sought to abdicate all responsibility. We’ve been here before – if the Home Office is truly serious about learning the lessons of Windrush, they need to listen to expert advice from people who have been through the immigration system, and those who work with them. If they don’t, further tragedy at the UK’s borders seems unavoidable.

Read the full text of the letter, originally published on the JCWI website, below and list of signatories below. JCWI is also encouraging people to write to their MP urging them to take action – you can do so by clicking here.

Full letter:

Dear Priti Patel MP,

We are writing to you regarding the ongoing Channel crossings and the UK government’s response, particularly considering your stated commitment to implementing the Windrush Lessons Learned Review Recommendations.

The small number of people seeking entry to the UK in this way are doing so because there are simply no safe and legal routes of entry to the UK. The majority have family or loved ones in the UK, are at risk of exploitation by people traffickers and smugglers and are fleeing war or persecution. Like you, we would like to see an end to Channel crossings which take place in this way. We do not want anyone to have to risk their lives trying to enter the UK.

Whilst search and rescue operations are essential to prevent further loss of life, deployment of the Navy in the Channel is not a permanent or reasonable solution and will only push people further into the hands of people traffickers. We deplore any suggestion that the Navy should breach international refugee or maritime law by ‘pushing back’ boats seeking to reach safety on our shores.

You will be aware that in 2019 the Foreign Affairs Select Committee – of which you were a member  – warned that  “a policy that focuses exclusively on closing borders will drive migrants to take more dangerous routes, and push them into the hands of criminal groups.” We are disappointed that the UK government is continuing to pursue this failed approach despite copious evidence and advice presented to the government by the Select Committee and numerous civil society organisations.

We note that this pattern of ignoring expert advice, failing to engage with civil society and branding migrants as “criminal” is the same set of conditions which led to the Windrush scandal. A key recommendation from the Windrush Lessons Learned Review urged government to implement policies based on evidence and transparent decision-making.

Instead of taking a compassionate approach and listening to affected communities and experts, Ministers, the Prime Minister and Home Office officials have responded by seeking to discredit experts, lawyers, and others who have warned of dangerous consequences to the government’s approach. Most notably:

  1. A Home Office spokesperson claimed: “While we are unable to comment on ongoing legal proceedings, it is the case that the current legal framework is often abused by activist lawyers to frustrate the government’s attempts in this regard.”

Lawyers work within the legal framework set out by Parliament, and act in their clients’ interests. It is extremely dangerous for the executive to attack lawyers for doing their jobs.  It is completely unacceptable for the Home Office to mount attacks on the rule of law, and those seeking to enforce it.

  1. In response to a thread on social media in which the ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s set out a detailed set of evidence and recommendations from experts on the humane and effective solutions to make refugee journeys safer, an anonymous source within the Home Office said: “Priti is working day and night to bring an end to these small boat crossings, which are facilitated by international criminal gangs and are rightly of serious concern to the British people. If that means upsetting the social media team for a brand of overpriced junk food, then so be it.” Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly said “Can I have a large scoop of statistically inaccurate virtue signalling with my grossly overpriced ice cream, please?”

Neither of these ad hominem attacks respond to the evidence or expert recommendations that Ben & Jerry’s referenced in their thread. In the Lessons Learned Review Wendy Williams recommends that “ministers should make clear that they expect officials to seek out a diverse range of voices and prioritise community-focused policy by engaging with communities, civil society and the public.” She also expresses concern at a “a defensive culture in the department, which often defends, deflects and dismisses criticism.” This extraordinary attack from the top levels of government to constructive, evidence-based criticism is not in line with the Windrush review recommendations.

  1. Ministers, officials and the Prime Minister have repeatedly referred to the crossings as illegal. As you know, it is legal for a refugee to enter the UK without documents in order to seek sanctuary. As the UK does not provide a visa route that allows entry in order to make a claim for protection, and does not provide adequate resettlement or refugee family reunion, the only way to make a claim is to do so on British soil.

This leaves people with legitimate legal cause to come to the UK and seek humanitarian protection with no legal means of doing so. To brand this as “illegal” or “criminal” activity is irresponsible and wrong and is precisely the same rhetoric that led to the wrongful detention and deportation of the Windrush generation. The government must stop using such language and misstating the law – particularly as both the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and Wendy Williams have pointed out the dangers of wrongly using the language of criminality.

Those who continue to fight for the rights of the Windrush generation, people seeking asylum and migrants recognise this sort of behaviour from government. It is precisely the refusal to listen to evidence and advice, the refusal to recognise the humanity of those affected, and an attitude that treats outside expertise and knowledge as opposition that have led to chaos and dysfunction in the Home Office.

If the lessons of the Windrush scandal are to be learned, and power taken away from people traffickers, the government must now take an approach based on pragmatic and evidence-led solutions. We call on the government to introduce safe and legal routes of entry to the UK, including by introducing Humanitarian Visas, expanding the Family Reunification Rules, and properly funding and extending the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme. We would also like to see the government renew its commitment to the Dubs scheme and work closely with the French government to take shared responsibility for those seeking asylum in the UK, and immediately guarantee an adequate route for all those who are currently eligible to enter the UK under the family reunification provisions of the Dublin regulations who stand to lose that right on 31 December 2020.

We invite you to meet with a wide range of civil society groups to create a safe system for people to come to the UK to claim asylum. This should include members of the Windrush generation, those providing services to people seeking asylum in the UK and in the EU, and migrants who have been affected by the current system.

We hope that we can work together to end the need for dangerous journeys to the UK once and for all.

Yours sincerely,

  1. Satbir Singh, Chief Executive, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants
  2. Michael Braithwaite, Windrush Survivor & Campaigner
  3. Sekeena Muncey & Glenda Andrew, Co-Founders, Preston Windrush Generation Descendants UK
  4. Jacqueline McKenzie, Immigration Solicitor, McKenzie Beute & Pope and Centre for Migration Advice and Research
  5. Harun Khan, Secretary General, Muslim Council of Britain
  6. Paul Parker, Recording Clerk, Quakers in Britain
  7. Dr Edie Friedman, Executive Director, Jewish Council for Racial Equality (JCORE)
  8. Stephen Hale, CEO, Refugee Action
  9. Paul Hook, Director, Asylum Matters
  10. Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, CEO, Oxfam GB
  11. Dr Zubaida Haque, Interim Director, The Runnymede Trust
  12. Dr Wanda Wyporska, Executive Director, The Equality Trust
  13. Martha Spurrier, Director, Liberty
  14. Sonia Lenegan, Legal Director, Immigration Law Practitioners Association
  15. Jennine Walker, Head of UK Legal, Safe Passage International
  16. Sian Summers Rees, Chief Officer, City of Sanctuary UK
  17. Andrea Cleaver, Interim CEO, Welsh Refugee Council
  18. Nicolas Hatton, CEO, The 3Million
  19. Josh Hallam, UK Community and Networks Manager, Help Refugees
  20. Dr Razia Shariff, CEO, Kent Refugee Action Network
  21. Lucila Granada, CEO, Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX)
  22. Carol Storer, Interim Director, Legal Action Group
  23. Danny Silverstone, Chair, René Cassin
  24. Nick Lowles, Chief Executive, HOPE not hate
  25. Bethan Lant, Casework, Training and Advocacy Manager, Praxis
  26. Neal Lawson, Executive Director, Compass
  27. Kate Metcalf, Co-Director, Women’s Environmental Network
  28. Dave Fuller, Project Manager, Repowering London
  29. Anna Vickerstaff, UK Team Lead, org
  30. Lisa Matthews, Co-ordinator, Right to Remain
  31. Sarah Story, Director, Refugee Info Bus
  32. Marta Welander, Executive Director, Refugee Rights Europe
  33. Nick Harborne, CEO, Reading Refugee Support Group
  34. Daisy Jacobs and Leyla Mclennan, Co-Directors, Routes
  35. Celia Clarke, Director, Bail for Immigration Detainees
  36. Dr Mohamed Nasreldin, Director, North of England Refugee Service
  37. Nazek Ramadan, Director, Migrant Voice
  38. Clare Moseley, CEO, Care4Calais
  39. Ros Ereira, Director, Solidarity with Refugees
  40. Rachel Oliver, Head of Campaigns, Positive Money
  41. Loraine Masiya Mponela, Chair, Coventry Asylum and Refugee Action Group
  42. Dorian Leatham, CEO, Migrants’ Rights Network
  43. Anthony Johnson, Registered Nurse and Lead Organiser, Nurses United UK
  44. Emily Crowley, Chief Executive, Student Action for Refugees
  45. Daf Viney, Director of Services, Hackney Migrant Centre
  46. Andrea Pisauro, National Coordinator, Take a Break from Brexit
  47. Bella Sankey, Director, Detention Action
  48. Beth Wilson, Director, Bristol Refugee Rights
  49. Cat Hobbs, Director, We Own It
  50. Mary Church, Head of Campaigns, Friends of the Earth Scotland
  51. Ben Carpenter, CEO, Social Value UK
  52. Jonny Willis, CEO, Refugee Youth Service
  53. Annie Campbell Viswanathan, Director/Supervising Immigration Caseworker, North Kensington Law Centre
  54. Jamie Peters, Interim Director of Campaigning Impact, Friends of the Earth
  55. Robert Noyes, Campaigner and Researcher, Platform
  56. Tanya Long, Director, Samphire
  57. Bill McGuire, Professor Emeritus of Geophysical & Climate Hazards, University College London
  58. Anna Jones, Co-Founder, RefuAid
  59. Daniel Ashwell, Casework Team Manager, Refugee and Migrant Centre
  60. Dr Tytus Murphy, Campaigner, Divest Parliament
  61. Miriam Brett, Director of Research and Advocacy, Common Wealth
  62. Jonathan Stevenson, Head of Communications, Global Justice Now
  63. Anna Miller, Head of Policy and Advocacy, Doctors of the World UK
  64. Halaleh Taheri, Founder & Executive Director, Middle Eastern Women and Society Organisation
  65. Zrinka Bralo, CEO, Migrants Organise
  66. Fatima Ibrahim and Hannah Martin, Co-Executive Directors, Green New Deal UK
  67. Green New Deal UK London
  68. Green New Deal UK Haringey
  69. Richard Williams, Chair, Sanctuary on Sea
  70. Ella Ticktin-Smith, Campaigner, UK Student Climate Network
  71. Maya Esslemont, Director, After Exploitation
  72. Avril Sharp, Policy & Casework Officer, Kalayaan
  73. Toni Soni, Centre Director, Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre
  74. Julian Prior, Chair of Trustees, NACCOM
  75. John Sauven, Executive Director, Greenpeace UK
  76. Amanda Janoo, Knowledge & Policy Lead, Wellbeing Economy Alliance
  77. Dominique Muller, Policy Director, Labour Behind the Label
  78. Migrants in Culture
  79. Sarah-Jayne Clifton, Director, Jubilee Debt Campaign
  80. Caroline Coombs and Jane Yilmaz, Co-Founders, Reunite Families UK
  81. Sarah Teather, Director, Jesuit Refugee Service
  82. Lucy Mason, Trainer & Co-Director, Tripod: Training for Creative Social Action
  83. Gus Hosein, Executive Director, Privacy International
  84. Leila Usmani, Project Development Officer, Race Alliance Wales
  85. Tess Berry-Hart, Director, Citizens of the World Choir
  86. Janet Veitch, Chair, UK Women’s Budget Group
  87. Morten Thaysen, Co-Founder, Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
  88. Pankhuri Mehndiratta, Immigration Caseworker, Ashiana Network
  89. Libby Freeman, Director, Calais Action
  90. Siobhan Hyland and Michael Vaughan, Co-Chairs, Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council
  91. Joanne MacInnes, Director, West London Welcome Centre for Refugees and Migrants
  92. Suresh Grover, Director, The Monitoring Group
  93. Tim Padmore and Iain Solanki-Willats, Campaigners, Climate SOS: Shift our Subsidies
  94. Jen Ang, Partner / Director, JustRight Scotland
  95. Rossana Leal, Founder & Director, The Refugee Buddy Project: Hastings, Rother and Wealden
  96. Women of Colour Global Women Strike
  97. Mark Serwotka, General Secretary, PCS
  98. Lucy Nabijou, Coordinator, Haringey Welcome
  99. Caz Hattam, Director, The Unity Project
  100. Leyla Laksari, Director, Living Under One Sun