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Alexander Betts, the Director of the Refugee Studies Centre, has co-authored a new report calling for the UK to develop a principled and effective national refugee strategy. 

Writing with Enver Solomon (CEO of the Refugee Council), Baroness Philippa Stroud (CEO of the Legatum Institute), and Will Somerville (UK Director of Unbound Philanthropy), the proposal outlines the basis of what a national refugee policy could look like. It identifies the principles that should underlie a national refugee policy, and how they can be implemented globally, nationally, and locally. 

The report suggests that key aspects of the government’s existing approach are inadequate and that a ‘reset’ is needed, noting that the recent policy to remove people seeking asylum to Rwanda will be particularly ineffective, costly, and risk weakening the global refugee system. Instead, the report suggests that it is possible to create a unifying national policy that ensure refugees’ access to protection, addresses concerns with people smuggling, and restores Britain’s global reputation. 

The report places international cooperation at its core, suggesting that effective refugee policy depends upon working diplomatically with France and the European Union to develop clear principles of responsibility-sharing. 

Alexander Betts, Director of the Refugee Studies Centre, said: “Refugee movements are a major global challenge, and yet the UK has never had a clearly defined national refugee policy. As co-authors, we’ve worked collaboratively across traditional divides to propose the elements of a unifying strategy that can be principled, pragmatic, and effective."

Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said: “With record numbers of people crossing the Channel this year, it is absolutely clear that Government policy as enshrined in the Nationality and Borders Act and the Rwanda deal is simply not working. We need a fair and humane asylum system and that means having grown-up conversations with France and the EU about sharing responsibility, and the development of well thought-out, long-term solutions which provide safe routes for the increasing numbers of people forced from their homes.”

Baroness Stroud, CEO of the Legatum Institute, said: “Without international cooperation, we will struggle to stop crossings. Even policies like the Rwanda flights are proving to be useless deterrents as the numbers taking dangerous journeys have rocketed. Instead, we must work with the countries on the other side of the channel to manage this crisis together.

The report has been shared with key members of Government and will be launched at a roundtable at the Houses of Parliament on 1st November. Two of the co-authors have written about the report in The Times.

In addition to outlining the basis for cooperation with France and the EU, the report proposes four other features of a national refugee strategy:

Asylum backlogs 

The major barrier to the possible future success of the asylum system is the administrative burden and exorbitant cost of the asylum backlog, according to the report. In order for rapid and efficient decision-making to resume, it argues that the asylum system needs a ‘reset’, recommending that a dedicated backlog clearance team is established to process the nearly 120,000 people who are waiting an initial decision on their asylum claim.

Right to work after six months 

Seeing as nearly three-quarters of those waiting for an initial decision on their claim have been waiting more than six months, the report argues that people seeking asylum should be given greater access to the right to work in order to support themselves and contribute to the national economy. It proposes that the right to work should begin six months after arrival, and no longer be restricted by occupation.

National refugee integration strategy 

Central government should create standards for effective refugee integration strategies, with direct earmarked funding for local authorities, linked to clearly defined key performance indicators as part of a national refugee integration strategy. At central government level, this requires joined-up policymaking across the Home Office, the Ministry of Levelling-Up, Housing, and Communities (DLUHC), the Department for Education, and the Department of Health and Social Care. It also requires joined-up thinking between central government and local authorities.

Improved global engagement 

The report contends that the UK should play a leadership role on global refugee policy in the long term, including a renewed commitment to the UN Convention on Refugees by engaging more actively in the Global Compact on Refugees. It suggests that the UK could also work with a coalition of likeminded states to negotiate a ‘solidarity pact’ to clarify the allocation of responsibilities between states in areas that are ambiguously or inadequately addressed by the international refugee system.


Download the report