The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) claims that Priti Patel’s UK immigration plans for Britain’s asylum system will be in violation of international law. The UK Home Secretary is proposing a two-tier system, which the UNHCR says ‘stigmatises those seeking asylum in the UK as unworthy and unwelcome’.
The UK Nationality and Borders Bill, which the government has put forward in an attempt to deter people from illegally entering the UK, will ‘create a lower class of status’ for the majority of refugees who arrive in Britain ‘spontaneously’, according to the UNHCR and reported by The Independent.
The Bill, issued in July, is currently passing through parliament and if passed would make it a criminal offence for an asylum seeker to arrive in the UK without permission. Under the new rules, any asylum seeker caught entering the UK illegally could be jailed for four years if convicted.
Rapid removal of asylum seekers
Meanwhile, the Bill also seeks to ‘rapidly remove’ asylum seekers arriving in the UK via unauthorised routes, granting them only temporary protection in Britain with limited rights if the government cannot immediately deport them.
UNHCR’s UK representative, Rossella Pagliuchi-Lor, highlighted that there is no evidence to support the idea that the Bill would stop asylum seekers from heading to the UK without the correct documentation.
“This Bill would undermine, not promote, the government’s stated goal of improving protection for those at risk of persecution. It seems to be aimed at deterring refugees, but there’s no evidence that would be the result,” Pagliuchi-Lor said.
“Those arriving irregularly will be stigmatised as unworthy and unwelcome, kept in a precarious status for ten years, denied access to public funds unless destitute. Family reunion will be restricted,” she added.
Seek asylum elsewhere
The Bill has been launched on the notion that asylum seekers should seek sanctuary in the ‘first safe country’ in which they arrive. However, there is no such requirement under international law, the UNHCR said. Such a rule also doesn’t exist in the 1951 Refugee Convention.
According to the UN Refugee Agency, the idea that all refugees should seek asylum in the first safe country is ‘unworkable’.
Ms Pagliuchi-Lor said: “This differentiation of treatment has no basis in international law. The Convention’s definition of a refugee doesn’t vary according to the route of travel, choice of country of asylum, or the timing of a claim. Are we saying that an Afghan refugee is less deserving in the UK than when in Iran or Pakistan?”
No quick fixes
The UNHCR’s UK representative went on to say: “There are no quick fixes to what is a global problem. The humane solution lies in working with neighbours on refugee transfers – and with countries of origin on returns of those who are not refugees and have no right to remain – and improving the UK system.”
Meanwhile, the Bill has faced heavy criticism from a number of respected people, including the UK’s modern slavery tsar. In a letter to the Home Secretary, Dame Sara Thornton warned that the proposed UK immigration reforms would ‘make the identification of victims of modern slavery harder and “create additional vulnerabilities’.
She said: “Those entering this country irregularly may become exploited at any point, particularly if they have debt incurred for their journey. Differential treatment of refugees based on the nature of their arrival may only serve to exacerbate vulnerability.”
UK’s global reputation at risk
The Law Society of England and Wales warned that the controversial UK immigration Bill puts the UK’s global reputation for justice at great risk.
I Stephanie Boyce, president of the Law Society, said: “There are significant concerns and a lack of clarity over whether the Nationality and Borders Bill would comply with international law or, indeed, uphold access to justice for extremely vulnerable people.”
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “The entire government is determined to tackle the unacceptable rise in dangerous Channel crossings at every level. The New Plan for Immigration provides the only long-term solution to fix the broken system, which includes changes to the law to tackle criminal gangs and prevent further loss of life.
“It fully complies with all our international obligations including under the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN Refugee Convention. People should seek protection in the first safe country they reach, like France.”
“They should not, after having obtained safety, make further unnecessary and dangerous journeys to their preferred destination as a matter of choice,” the spokesperson added.
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