BIA’s priority is protection, but of what?

The ten point plan for reforming asylum and immigration, released in a speech this week by Immigration Minister Liam Byrne, was largely predictable: Police-like powers for border forces, deportations of illegal immigrants and foreign prisoners, removals of failed asylum seekers, e- and biometric border control. The press release lists countless targets met in recent months, largely targets that are proof of increased restrictions, containment and control. It is certainly the role of the BIA to perform these functions competently, and the emphasis of the ten-point plan is clarified by four priorities: ‘protection, prevention, accountability and compassion’.

Surprisingly, the Refugee Council blog appears to see this as a cause for praise suggesting that ‘it was good to see that Mr Byrne put protection first. In recent years politicians have focused heavily on the need to increase border control and eliminate abuse of the system.’ This seems to be a misinterpretation of the priorities. When Byrne mentions protection, surely he means of borders, not of refugees. Furthermore, while compassion may be one of the priorities, it doesn’t seem to be the basis for many of the ten points of the plan – here.

Byrne’s plan is definitely compact and structured. One of the main problems for asylum and immigration policy in recent years has been its disjointed delivery and often knee-jerk basis. While there may be little reference in the policy detail to the ‘compassion’ of Byrne’s speech, restoring confidence in the government’s ability to manage the immigration and asylum systems may be a first necessary step in the evolution of a system that genuinely promotes compassion and prioritises refugee protection.

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