David Goodhart

How to fix Britain’s broken asylum system

(Photo: Getty)

Asylum is often seen as a simple morality tale—the generous spirited are in favour of it, the hard-hearted against. And we certainly read plenty of high moral dudgeon directed at the Home Office’s pedestrian response to the Ukraine refugee crisis. Much of that criticism was deserved. The lack of preparedness and then the inability to adapt quickly under pressure and allow in anyone with a Ukrainian passport, especially those with relatives here, while sorting out the bureaucracy once they arrived, was indeed dismaying.

But the tale relayed for almost a week from almost every media outlet—from the BBC via the Telegraph and Spectator to the New Statesman and Observer/Guardian—of a shamefully mean UK compared with the hospitable Europeans failed to mention one salient fact: for more than ten years the EU Schengen states have allowed visa-free travel from Ukraine. Moreover, the country where most of them have gone, Poland, has had several hundred thousand Ukrainians working legally in the country for years, many of them doing the kind of jobs that Poles have been doing in the UK (as part of the westward migration domino effect). Germany has had something like 135,000 Ukrainians, compared with about 20,000 Ukrainian nationals in the UK mainly on temporary work schemes in the countryside.

So continental European countries, both east and west, simply allowed nature to take its course, though the EU did officially extend the 90 day visa-free travel agreement into a three year right to work arrangement.

The UK, by contrast, had to set up a new visa system from scratch at a time when, thanks to the continuing Channel crossings, it has been focused on abuse of the system and security concerns which are not wholly irrational.

The Homes for Ukraine scheme and a less bureaucratic visa scheme has now allayed some of the exasperation felt by a sympathetic general public, though less so the refugee lobby which wants all Ukrainians to be granted official asylum and so the right to stay here permanently.

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