Zimbabwe political activist calls for humanitarian protection. A Sudanese girl stranded in Greece dreams of joining her refugee brother in Birmingham.
Every year, just like those people I have represented, thousands of African countries try to enter the UK for a multitude of reasons.
Almost all are faced with a impenetrable bureaucracy, exorbitant fees and “entry clearance officers” – now centralized in a single “decision-making center” in Pretoria – itching to cast doubt on the intention of the applicant.
Those who do still meet Skeptical immigration officers at the border and a hostile environment designed to make stays as short as possible.
Unfair treatment of Africans
Those who apply from African countries already know this, of course. And this is reflected in the Home Ministry’s own statistics: 34% of Nigeria’s visit (business and tourism) visa applications were refused in the year up to June 2020, Ghana’s 43% were refused. stranded and 42% from Algeria.
Compare that to the refusal percentage of Russians (2%), Saudis (0%) and Colombians (4%). The African anomaly? South Africa, where only 3% of applications were refused (there is no breakdown in the numbers for breed).
The figures for “family visit” requests are surprisingly similar. It is only in the category of limited work visas – for those with existing job vacancies and UK sponsors – that the refusal rate in Africa falls below 10%.
As the UK’s All Party Parliamentary Group for Africa concluded in July 2019: “Home Office data on visa denials shows that African applicants more than twice as likely to be denied a UK visa than applicants from any other part of the world. The UK has good relations with most African countries, but it must be recognized that no problem harms the UK’s image or influence in Africa more than this visa issue. The fact that turndowns for African applicants in 2018 were more than double the global average suggests that something is wrong. “
The refusals reflect a culture of disbelief among decision-makers at the Home Office: a “visitor” from Africa is considered to be at high risk of “exceeding his length of stay”.
Evidence from the mainland (bank statements, interviews with the visa center, letters of support from third parties) is systematically rejected as “not credible”.
Nationality and Borders Bill
British Home Secretary Priti Patel, whose parents emigrated to the UK from Kampala in the 1960s, now try to make life even more difficult. The new Nationality and Borders Bill, due to become law later this year, contains a series of measures that narrow entry ways and fees on arrival.
It even includes a provision that makes something that has long been suspected explicit: If you are unfortunate enough to apply from a country on the wrong side of British politics, you may well be suffering the alleged sins of your government.
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Buried in Article 59 is a seemingly innocuous provision entitled “Processing of visa applications from nationals of certain countries”.
This will allow the Home Office to “suspend or delay”, treat as invalid or impose “additional financial requirements” on countries’ requests when “in the opinion of the Secretary of State … the government of this The country does not cooperate with the UK government with regard to the removal from the UK of UK nationals who need permission to enter or stay in the UK but do not have it.
In other words, Patel threatens to put applicants at a disadvantage, not for anything that is or is not in their individual applications, but simply because of the failure of ‘their’ governments to agree to expulsions from the UK. .
This Ghanaian businessman, whatever his merit, could therefore be refused entry because other Ghanaian nationals exceeded their stay in the UK years before and Accra has not confirmed that it will accept them again.
The UK appears to be following the lead of the US under Donald Trump, which implemented similar ‘visa sanctions’ in 2017 against Eritrea, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
The reluctance of some African capitals to issue “Emergency Travel Documents” to facilitate the return of their nationals has many sources: identity conflicts, administrative uncertainty and inefficiency (on both sides), diplomatic quarrels.
Countries long considered to be the most “uncooperative” by the Home Office include Algeria, Morocco, Gambia, DRC and Zimbabwe. They are now advised that a punishment will be imposed.
It remains to be seen whether Article 59 will be implemented. Unfortunately, some of the most regressive changes to the immigration system are already in force, especially since the UK’s official exit from the EU at the end of 2020.
Effect of Brexit
Free movement rights within the EU had been a legitimate alternative route to the UK since 1973, especially as the country’s own “immigration rules” have become stricter.
To take just three examples: a DRC national who is naturalized as Belgian then automatically becomes authorized to live and work in Great Britain. A Gabonese falls in love and marries a French woman – he was able to enter the UK as a direct family member of the French spouse without being an EU citizen himself. He would retain a right of residence even if they separated. An undocumented Nigerian with a British child in the UK could successfully stay on the basis that he or she was the primary caregiver of an EU citizen.
All these rights derived from the EU are now gone. Africans find themselves rather plunged into the sole internal regime of the United Kingdom and, in extremis, recourse to human rights applications. In addition, making in-country requests to modify or regularize stays once in the UK is increasingly cumbersome, unpredictable and costly.
The Brexit also led the United Kingdom to deviate from the “Dublin Regulations”, a framework of shared responsibility for asylum seekers in Europe.
This seriously compromised the ability of African refugees to reach Britain by legal means. Under Dublin, an asylum seeker who ended up in France, Greece or any other signatory state could request the transfer of their application if they had a family member in the UK or could demonstrate d other pressing humanitarian considerations. This route has now been deleted.
Worse yet, if the asylum seeker enters the UK illegally, by boat, truck or plane, Patel’s proposals will criminalize them both for ‘illegal entry’ and qualify the asylum claim as ‘inadmissible’ in the UK. ground that the individual should have applied in the first “safe country” through which they traveled.
There has been a lot of torment in Parliament, on the right and on the left, over the government’s decision to cut the international aid budget by £ 4.5 billion in 2021. But there has been little debate about how UK immigration policy harms Africa’s economic potential and limits prospects for partnership and mutual benefit; nor how does the UK’s relationship with the continent remains stuck in old mentalities.
There was a brief delusional period during the Brexit referendum when supporters raised the possibility of a reformed migration system that would foster Britain’s ‘historic’ ties to the former colonies, including in Africa.
Starting with the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962, entry fees for citizens of Commonwealth and Colonial countries have been completely eroded within a decade. And nothing in the post-Brexit immigration system puts Africa in a better position. When negotiating its trade deal with the UK this year, India pushed for a better deal for its students and workers wishing to enter Britain, winning some limited concessions. There will be less leverage for individual African countries.
At the end of the line
The situation is expected to deteriorate further. In a new biopolitical landscape defined by coronavirus variants and vaccine passports as an additional entry requirement, the UK is expected to continue to lock its doors. Africans will go elsewhere – and it will be the loss of Britain.
Taimour Lay is a refugee and immigration lawyer at Garden Court Chambers in London. He is a former special correspondent for The Africa Report.