René Cassin Safe Routes Briefing

10 Apr, 2024 | Latest, Stop the hostile environment

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April 2024

Helen*, a 16-year-old girl fleeing conflict from Eritrea, finally arrived in the UK after a dangerous and difficult boat journey across the English Channel. Despite being only 16, officials from the Home Office arbitrarily decided her age was 22. Helen was placed in accommodation with adult men much older than her, where she felt unsafe. Staff told her that they could not help her with her age. This situation is one of many which could be avoided by the implementation of safe routes. 

*Name has been changed. 

How Refugees and Asylum Seekers get to the UK

Conflicts and political persecution around the world have caused a huge amount of forced
displacement. The safe housing of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK was much higher prior to the covid-19 pandemic, but certain states, including the UK, have continued to limit movement at the rate it was in the pandemic.

This has exacerbated the use of dangerous routes such as the small boats used to cross the English Channel. These boats used are often overcrowded and the people on board are at risk of capsizing, hypothermia, and collisions with larger vessels. Refugees and asylum seekers have little choice but to make these journeys. There is no evidence to support the government’s claim that their harsh treatment of refugees and asylum seekers serves as a deterrent for people seeking refuge and asylum to make the journey to the UK. Even if it were true, we see no moral, legal, or economic reason to deter refugees in the first place.

We are particularly alarmed by the government’s dismissive response to the Home Affairs
Committee’s recommendation for establishing safe routes.

What are Safe Routes

The UK currently operates two main safe routes for refugees and asylum seekers and their families: ‘resettlement’ and ‘refugee family reunion’. However, these safe routes are operated to such a limited capacity that currently limits the access to those coming from only four territories: Ukraine, Afghanistan, Syria and Hong Kong. Thus, refugees and asylum seekers fleeing war or persecution from other countries are excluded.

Safe routes stand for a welcoming and compassionate society that welcomes those seeking safety. They aim to ensure that refugees can access asylum in a dignified and secure manner, in line with international humanitarian principles and human rights standards.

One of the most famous ‘safe routes’ offered in the UK was the Kindertransport, a British scheme to rescue nearly 10,000 predominantly Jewish children from Nazi-occupied territories. This ‘safe route’ was not operated by the British government but rather by individuals and charities such as World Jewish Relief and Quakers, who acted as ‘guarantors’ for those children.

This year marks the 85th anniversary of the Kindertransport. We see this as an opportunity to call on the government to expand safe and legal routes to the UK. As a Jewish community that has historically and consistently sought refuge and asylum, we see it as imperative that the UK makes the lives of those fleeing persecution easier, not harder.


Resettlement schemes provide a safe way for refugees and asylum seekers to be relocated to a country that can provide permanent residency and protection. The UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, usually requires two of seven criteria to be sufficient to suggest resettlement for an individual:

  • Women and girls who are survivors, or at risk of, gender-based violence.
  • Children and young people at risk where resettlement is in their best interests.
  • Survivors of violence and/or torture.
  • Medical needs, especially those that cannot be met in the country the person is currently in.
  • Restoring family unity where there are no other mechanisms to reunite.
  • Lack of alternative durable solutions.

Resettlements have severely shrunk since covid, with no indication by the government that these figures will be brought up. Since 2020 the government has reneged on its commitment to fulfilling its quota for resettlement, as set by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Refugee Family Reunion

It is very common for families to be separated during forced displacement. As such, the UK allows refugees to sponsor a family member to be able to join them. However, the definition of family which the Home Office uses, is unfairly strict. For example, a child refugee in the UK is not allowed to be reunited with a parent if they are not already in the UK. This makes the UK one of the only European countries – along with Switzerland and Liechtenstein – which does not allow refugee children the simple mechanism to ask to be reunited with their family. The current mechanism for family reunion only allows adult refugees to sponsor a spouse or a child under 18. They cannot sponsor other family members they care for, such as an elderly parent.


We urge the UK government to take on the recommendations of the Refugee Council. These include:

  • Setting a multi-year target for resettling refugees, which significantly expands on the number
    currently being resettled.
  • Expanding access to refugee family reunion by allowing children to be reunited with parents
    and using a more realistic definition of what counts as family.
  • Building a scheme with the EU which allows for family members in different countries to be
  • Piloting a “refugee visa” that allows people to travel to the UK before applying for asylum.

Download the briefing here.

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