Media Release

Fixing Britain’s broken asylum system means taking more refugees

Migrant rights campaigners and the Home Office should agree a truce and work together on an approach that could see Britain accepting more refugees through safe and legal routes, a think-tank says today.

The Social Market Foundation says that, despite public rows over Home Secretary Priti Patel’s rhetoric on asylum and illegal migration, there is significant common ground between refugee campaigners and ministers on the best way to secure protection in the UK for refugees.

Sensible co-operation between the two sides could lead to a new approach where the UK agrees to accept more refugees via international resettlement schemes, as a result receiving fewer direct claims for asylum which could then be more effectively dealt with, the SMF said.

Such a system could reduce the numbers of people trying to enter the UK by crossing the English Channel or via people-smuggling routes, the cross-party think-tank suggested.

In a paper on the political and policy challenges around asylum claims and refugees, Jonathan Thomas of the SMF argues for increasing the UK’s refugee resettlement commitments and the associated community sponsorship programme for resettled refugees.

Receiving more refugees through resettlement could be attractive to both the Government and refugee rights groups, Thomas has said, as it could:

  • Save lives and save money.
  • Mitigate tensions around direct asylum seekers coming to the UK.
  • Allow refugee families a better chance of staying together.
  • Mean refugees can work and integrate as soon as they arrive in the UK.
  • Gain more support from the British public in a way that allows more refugees to come to the country.

Taking more refugees through resettlement would however require both sides to shift their positions.

Refugee advocates need to accept:

  • Not all asylum seekers are refugees; no amount of ‘improving’ the Home Office decision-making process will make that so.
  • Public support for refugees and for the UK asylum system is undermined if the public see the system as allowing those who fail in their asylum claims in the UK to simply remain and swell the irregular migrant population here.
  • The wider asylum system in the UK costs a lot of money and takes up large resources which the Government would understandably like to reduce.

The Home Office needs to accept:

  • Not all asylum seekers passing through other countries to reach the UK are ‘bogus’; some are refugees.
  • Countries that have improved the speed, cost, credibility and efficiency of their asylum determination procedures have generally done so not by keeping lawyers out of the process, but by integrating them more comprehensively into the process.
  • The Australian-style approach of pushbacks at sea and offshore processing of asylum claims is unlikely to be palatable to the British public.

How can both sides find more common ground to extract the most value for their respective positions:

  • Identify the existing common ground – both sides seem to agree:
    • The current system is broken.
    • On the need to help those most in need fleeing desperate situations and that the UK should provide protection to refugees in accordance with international law.
    • That safe and legal routes to the UK can save lives and save money.
  • Are there therefore ways that – like the Swiss have recently done – both sides could find a way to work together to make the asylum system work more fairly and effectively, accepting that:
    • Swift processing should be as much targeted at those considered most likely to be successful in their claims as those least likely.
    • Legal advice and support is key, but needs to be realistic about the most likely outcomes.
    • Some asylum claims will fail and those claimants who have no other rights to stay will need to be removed for the system to have credibility.

Jonathan Thomas, author of Fixing Britain’s Broken Asylum System, said:

There are a number of potential advantages of refugee resettlement from the British public’s perspective; greater trust in the system as well as allowing refugees to contribute and integrate in the UK from day one.”

“While Priti Patel’s rhetoric may be challenging for refugee supporters, her recent comments could open up an opportunity for real improvements in the way that refugees can access safety and security in the UK without having to split up their families and risk their lives.”

“The vast majority of refugees in the most desperate situations never get a chance to come to the UK. Greater use of resettlement could be the fairest approach.”


  • For an embargoed copy of the report or other media enquiries, please contact SMF’s Impact Officer Linus Pardoe – – 07402 576995

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