UN refugee arm condemns asylum seeker report

The United Nations refugee arm has condemned a report proposing controversial reforms to tackle the number of migrants arriving on boats in the UK.

A man is escorted by Border Force officials after being picked up in the channel with other migrants on the south coast of England.
A man is escorted by Border Force officials after being picked up in the channel with other migrants on the south coast of England.

The report, Stopping the Crossing, by centre-right think-tank the Centre for Policy Studies, says “if necessary” Britain should change human rights laws and withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights in order to tackle the increasing number of people crossing the Channel on small boats. A total of 44,000 people have already arrived through this route this year.

It also recommends the “indefinite detention” of all asylum seekers who enter the country illegally and the “rapid offshoring to Rwanda” for all asylum seekers who enter the country illegally – in reference to government plans to process asylum seekers in Rwanda, which was abandoned shortly before the first plane was due to take off in June, following a last-minute ruling by the European Court of Human Rights.

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Meanwhile, it recommends the creation of new laws which would make it impossible to claim asylum in the UK after travelling from a safe country and the creation of a statutory cap – no more than 20,000 per year – on the numbers coming to Britain through resettlement routes.

The report has been welcomed by UK Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, who said earlier this year that it would be her “dream” to see a plane of asylum seekers take off for Rwanda.

The UK Government categorises any asylum seekers who arrive in the country not on a government resettlement scheme such as the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme, as “illegal”.

UNHCR said the report, jointly written by Nick Timothy, former chief of staff to former prime minister Theresa May, contains "critical factual and legal errors" regarding the international legal status of refugees and asylum-seekers.

Vicky Tennant, UNHCR representative to the United Kingdom, said: “UNHCR notes with concern the proposals presented in a report issued today by the Centre for Policy Studies on UK asylum reform.

“Everybody has the right to seek asylum from persecution in another country, and there is no such thing as an “illegal asylum-seeker”. The indefinite detention of those seeking asylum, based solely on their mode of arrival, would punish people in need of help and protection and constitute a clear breach of the United Kingdom’s obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention.”

She added: “A blanket ban on claiming asylum in the UK for those arriving on small boats would also breach the Refugee Convention, if this results in refugees having no means to establish their status and places them at risk of enforced return to their own countries. Resettlement is a complementary system. It cannot replace obligations under International Law to provide access to asylum.”

Ms Tennant said UNHCR “shares the UK’s concerns” regarding the rising numbers of asylum seekers undertaking dangerous journeys across the Channel.

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She said: “But access to asylum should never be contingent on mode of arrival or nationality. The only way to establish whether people are refugees is through a fair and efficient determination of their claims.”

She called for the strengthening and expediting of decision-making procedures and stepping up cooperation with its European neighbours, including through multilateral transfer systems.

She added: “Expanding safe, regular pathways for refugees to travel to the UK would also offer real alternatives to dangerous, irregular journeys.”