Home secretary says migrants who arrive in UK by illegal routes will be indefinitely liable for removal
The UK home secretary, Priti Patel, is misrepresenting international law to push her hardline agenda against asylum seekers as she unveils a sweeping set of punishing proposals, the UN’s refugee agency has suggested.
In what has been billed as the biggest overhaul of the UK’s asylum system in decades, Patel has pledged to remove people who enter the UK illegally having travelled through a “safe country” in which they could and should have claimed asylum.
However, a spokesperson for the UNHCR, which serves as the guardian of the 1951 convention relating to the status of refugees and its 1967 protocol, a piece of international legislation to which the UK is a party, said: “Anyone seeking asylum should be able to claim in their intended destination or another safe country.”
He said while it was correct that the convention did not provide “an unfettered right to choose a country of asylum”, it does not “oblige asylum seekers to apply in the first safe country they encounter”.
“Some claimants have very legitimate reasons to seek protection in specific countries, including family or other links,” he added.
An application for asylum from someone who has been through a country in which they would have had access to a fair procedure under the convention may be ruled inadmissible provided they are readmitted to that country and its asylum procedure and if there are no compelling reasons for that person to remain in their country of intended destination, the spokesperson said.
Article 31 of the convention bans punishing refugees or asylum seekers if they come directly from a territory where they were threatened, present themselves without delay and have good reasons for entry. But it is not meant “to suggest that claims must be presented in the first country reached outside their own”.
The spokesperson said: “Travel is often circuitous, by land or sea, with possible interruptions for any number of reasons. Article 31 refers to refugees who had already settled in another country and then moved for personal convenience.”
Patel insisted on Wednesday that her proposals were in line with the refugee convention, international law and the European convention on human rights.
She said the government intended to “expand safe and legal routes options” to create “the right pathway for them to come to the UK and be resettled and start a new life here”, but she did not provide any detail.
Patel’s plans mean anyone arriving illegally will be further punished with limited family reunion rights and limited access to benefits.
This week it was reported that migrants who come to the UK through a safe and legal resettlement route, conversely, will get indefinite leave to remain immediately upon arriving in the UK under the plans.
Under current laws, resettled refugees can stay in the UK for five years, after which they must apply again for indefinite leave to remain.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Patel was asked whether it was fair to discriminate against those who arrive illegally but have a perfectly good case for asylum.
She said: “They will also have a perfectly acceptable case to be given asylum in safe countries they have travelled from, such as Italy and Belgium … these are not war zones but safe countries.”
She added that the current approach was “playing into the hands of people smugglers and criminals”.
When asked whether she had managed to agree on any returns deals with EU countries to make her new asylum plans work, Patel said the UK was “in discussions” and that EU states should agree to such deals because they had a “moral duty”.
She said: “We are speaking to EU member states right now and having negotiations … They have a moral duty to save lives and stop people being trafficked through their countries.”
In an interview with BBC Breakfast earlier on Wednesday, Patel responded to criticism from the British Red Cross that her new system was “inhumane”. She said: “What is inhumane is allowing people to be smuggled through illegal migration, and that is what we want to stop.
“The Red Cross, the UNHCR and other agencies, they are partner organisations, we will work with them to create safe and legal routes so we can stop this terrible, terrible trade in people being smuggled.”
It has also been reported that asylum seekers could be shipped overseas while their claims are processed. However, this was not discussed in a press statement on the proposals.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Our New Plan for Immigration is in line with international obligations including the Refugee Convention. To suggest otherwise is wrong.
“Our new system will ensure those with genuine need can get support, rather than favouring those who can afford to pay people smugglers or game the system.”
source: Jamie Grierson