What the 2017 election manifestos say about refugees and migrants
Here our editor Dr Kate Ferguson sets out what the political parties have to say in their manifestos regarding refugees and the issue of immigration. This research comes from a wider review of the manifesto commitments to tackling identity-based violence in the UK and worldwide.
All of the parties’ manifestos pledge to uphold the UK’s treaty obligations toward refugees. However only the Liberal Democrats directly address the need to treat immigration as an issue of social cohesion and state explicitly their intent to increase the UK’s intake of refugees. Labour and Plaid Cymru commit to accepting a ‘fair share’ of refugees but do not expand on this. Plaid Cymru explicitly support restarting the Dubs amendment, which would bring 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children to the UK. While the Labour Party promise not to scapegoat immigrants, they offer fewer concrete policies to help immigrants and refugees integrate compared to the Liberal Democrats.
The Conservatives promise to reform current asylum procedures, pledging to prioritise those who seek asylum from overseas rather than those who have reached the UK but are the only party that commit to reducing the country's refugee intake.
The Conservative Party
The Conservatives promise that Britain will remain a ‘place of sanctuary’ for those fleeing violence and persecution, but also makes the argument that those able to reach the UK and seek asylum are less vulnerable than those who remain in regions of risk. This is presumably the basis on which the manifesto also commits to reducing the number of asylum claims made in the UK. Instead, a Conservative government would increase regional assistance to people in need. No further commitments are offered to address existing refugee populations in Europe or around the world.
This policy marks a continuation of the previous government’s efforts to dissuade migrants and refugees from leaving crisis-effected regions. While the manifesto commits to further helping those in conflict areas, it is unclear whether this too would simply be a continuation of advocating resettlement in neighbouring countries rather than hosting refugees here in the UK.
The Labour Party
Labour criticise current refugee policies, makes the important distinction that refugees are not migrants, and promises that they will ‘not scapegoat migrants’ nor discriminate based upon race or faith. Labour pledge to end indefinite detentions, differentiate between migrant labour, international students and family attachment and terminate the existing income threshold for bringing family members. To protect and bolster public services in areas of large migration, they pledge to restore the Migrant Fund, which was terminated during the last parliament, and to review refugee housing. While the manifesto advocates for the UK to take ‘our fair share of refugees,’ no indication is given as to what the UK’s ‘fair share’ might be.
The Lib Dems
The Liberal Democrats provide the most comprehensive set of policies to protect and expand the rights of refugees seeking sanctuary in the UK. The Lib Dems are the only party to make guaranteeing ‘safe and legal routes’ to the UK a priority. They promise to expand the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme and commit to taking in 50,000 Syrian refugees during the next parliament. They also advocate re-opening the Dubs scheme and giving child refugees admitted to the UK indefinite leave to remain. The Lib Dems also suggest reforming family reunion rules to make joining UK-based relatives easier. The manifesto proposes ending indefinite immigration detention and making it possible for asylum seekers who have been in the UK for six months to search for work. The responsibility for the UK to offer asylum to those fleeing persecution on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity is also stressed.
On immigration more broadly, like Labour, the SNP and the Green Party, the Lib Dems use inclusive rhetoric, saying ‘immigration broadens our horizons and encourages us to be more open, more tolerant’ and commit to ‘making the case for immigration.’ They promise to remove students from official immigration statistics, establish a Migration Impact Fund for helping local communities to deal with new migration and increase government support for English language classes.
The Green Party
The Green Party promise a ‘humane immigration and asylum system’ and to take responsibility for Britain’s role in causing current flows of migration. However, they do not specify the number of refugees that the UK should take in.
Their LGBTQIA+ manifesto demands an immediate stop to deportations of LGBTQIA+ refugees. More broadly, the manifesto promises to end detention for refugees waiting for their cases to be processed, protect the right of appeal, and remove barriers to working. They also pledge to implement the recommendations of the former Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, John Vine, on sensitive questioning and evidence-based assessment.
The Gender Equality manifesto recommends that vulnerable women not be detained. It also recommends funding for ‘integrated support’ for refugees, basic needs for asylum applicants being secure, and caps for application wait times.
The United Kingdom Independence Party
Refugees and asylum seekers are scarcely mentioned in the UKIP manifesto. UKIP simply promise to ‘comply fully with the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and honour our obligations to bona fine asylum seekers.’ They offer no estimations of a suitable number of refugees to take nor offer any other details.
However, UKIP present many proposals that would reduce the rights of migrants in the UK, and do so under its rhetorical banner of promoting social cohesion. They propose initiatives that would widen the legal and normative gap between British nationals and foreign nationals, advocating for restrictions on healthcare, employment and family reunion. They also propose stricter penalties and deportation for any foreign nationals who have committed crimes within the UK. In order to foster greater social cohesion, UKIP pledge to ‘test the social attitudes of migration applicants’ in their proposed points-based system. Immigration and religious extremism are frequently addressed as part of the same problem and as threatening social cohesion. This conflation is used to legitimise UKIP’s proposals regarding migrants in the UK.
The Scottish National Party
The SNP argue that the last UK government’s response to the refugee and migration crisis fell ‘far short of their humanitarian and moral duty.’ SNP MPs will urge the next UK government to take action on recent recommendations of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees including implementing a National Refugee Integration Strategy that ensures all agencies coordinate support for refugees and helps refugees take part in, and contribute to, our society. They back an immediate reversal of the Dubs Scheme for unaccompanied children to ensure safe and legal routes are open. Furthermore, the SNP propose that the Dublin Regulation process be simplified, reformed, and properly implemented so that those with family in the UK can be more easily reunited with them. The SNP pledges to work to reform current system for housing asylum seekers, urging the government to work with local communities and councils over private contractors. The manifesto highlights need for reform of asylum system concerning LGBTI+ asylum seekers.
On the issue of immigration, Plaid Cymru propose a Welsh Migration Advisory Service to specifically handle immigration concerns within Wales but a strategy for immigration in Wales is not set out in detail. Commitments are made to uphold the Dubs amendment and criticisms are directed at the last Westminster government for not taking its ‘fair share’ of refugees, although no explicit proposals for Wales to take more refugees are made. Plaid Cymru advocate for international students to be excluded from overall migration statistics.
Dr Kate Ferguson is an Editor of Refugee History and Research Associate at UEA’s School of History. She is Director of Research & Policy at Protection Approaches, a human rights charity that works to end identity-based violence in the UK and around the world. This blog is based on findings of a full review of the party manifestos and their commitments to tackling identity-based violence at home and abroad and can be read here.