The UK government’s disparate responses to refugees risk turning their security into a “divisive and racist popularity contest”, MPs and peers have been told.
There is a “glaring” gap between how refugees are treated, with immigration policy often “based on racial lines”, the Joint Committee on Human Rights heard.
The lack of safe and secure pathways to seek asylum in the UK is forcing people to risk their lives, said Zahra Hasan, director of advocacy at the Joint Council for Migrant Welfare.
Home Office figures show Afghans were among the top nationalities crossing the Channel this year, she said.
Ukrainian refugees – one of the only groups who can travel to the UK on a visa to seek safety – were not in the data.
“The treatment of Ukrainian refugees is definitely what we need to mirror for other refugees,” said Ms Hassan.
“Everyone deserves a safe route, regardless of their skin color or religion.
“And this gap that we can see between racial refugees and white refugees is so striking and demonstrates, in our opinion, how often government immigration policy is written along racial lines.”
Ms. Hassan said resettlement programs are important, but “there is no substitute for a fair and compassionate system.”
“These plans actually see the government reinventing the wheel, with a plan for every crisis, announcing personalized visa lanes when bombs land on Aleppo, when Kabul falls to the Taliban, when [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s forces are destroying cities across Ukraine,” she said.
“This approach risks turning refugee safety into a divisive racist popularity contest… by giving Ukrainians a warm welcome while threatening those who cross the Channel, who are mostly black and brown, with deportation to a country they have no connection to.”
Ms Hassan called for safer routes, including a travel document giving people in northern France permission to enter Britain to claim asylum.
This month, Home Secretary Suala Braverman said migrants crossing the Channel would face a ban on claiming asylum in the UK.
“So if you deliberately enter the UK illegally from a safe country, you should be quickly returned to your country of origin or transferred to Rwanda,” Ms Braverman said.
The commission was told that people should not be punished for the way they arrive in the UK when safe routes have been closed to them.
Ms Hassan said it was “really shocking to see people being punished for taking the only route open to them at the moment”.
Jonathan Ellis, head of public affairs and strategic policy at the Refugee Council, said that “the means of transport should not be used against people.”
“This kind of discrimination, to have the mode of travel count against you in terms of assessing your asylum claim, I think is very significant, huge,” Mr Ellis said.
“There are very few safe and legal ways … it cuts off the pathway to safety for so many people.”
A Home Office representative said: “We have welcomed hundreds of thousands of people to the UK through our safe and legal global routes, testament to the programs from Hong Kong and Afghanistan, as well as the two Ukrainian programmes, which show that we respond flexibly and generously to crisis situations.
“In addition, more than 40,000 people have come to the UK in recent years through our refugee family reunification rules, which are available around the world.”
Updated: October 26, 2022, 9:17 p.m