Priti Patel today vowed to tackle “illegal migration head-on” as she unveiled “the most significant overhaul of our asylum system in decades”.
The Home Secretary claimed she was introducing a “comprehensive, fair but firm” plan which would address those entering the UK “illegally”.
In a statement, she told the Commons: “The Government has taken back control of legal immigration by ending free movement and introducing a points-based immigration system.
“We are now addressing the challenge of illegal migration head-on.
“I’m introducing the most significant overhaul of our asylum system in decades, a new comprehensive, fair but firm long-term plan.
“Because while people are dying, we have a responsibility to act.”
Ms Patel claimed the system had been “open to abuse” and “overwhelmed” with a backlog of 109,000 asylum claims.
She added: “The persistent failure to enforce our immigration rules with a system that is open to gaming by economic migrants and exploitation by criminals is eroding public trust and disadvantaging vulnerable people who need our help.”
Now the SNP have accused the Home Secretary of deliberately ignoring article 31 of the Refugee Convention, which states that refugees cannot be penalised for entering a country illegally to claim asylum if they are “coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened” provided they “present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence”.
SNP Immigration spokesperson Anne McLaughlin MP said: “I didn’t think the Tories could stoop any lower or become nastier with regards to asylum – but sadly they have just proved me wrong.
“Rather than taking this as an opportunity to establish a humane and dignified UK asylum system – which is desperately needed – Priti Patel’s so-called ‘overhaul’ will dismantle it completely and act as a full-frontal assault on the Refugee Convention and international law.
“In doing this, the UK will entirely disregard the international obligations it signed up to.
“It is vital to push back on the Tories’ toxic rhetoric that the people coming to the UK seeking asylum are “illegals” – they are not.
“It is not illegal to enter the UK to claim asylum as article 31 of the Refugee Convention makes clear.”
Campaigners raised concerns asylum seekers will be judged on how they arrived in the UK and not on merit.
Advocacy charity Migrant Voice say the proposals will condemn asylum seekers “to a life in limbo with restricted rights”.
Director Nazek Ramadan said: “People fleeing persecution and death have the right to seek sanctuary.
“That is the starting point, and no policy should undermine it.
“We are dealing here with human beings: they cannot be treated like commodities.”
Tim Naor Hilton, interim chief executive at Refugee Action, called the proposals a “wrecking ball to the right to claim asylum in the UK”.
He added: “They represent the biggest attack on the right to claim asylum that we have ever seen and will close the door to desperate people who arrive in the UK to seek safety.
“People fleeing for their lives have little choice in how they seek safety.
“But these reforms punish refugees simply for how they enter the country, creating an unjust two-tier system of refuge."