Priti Patel, Home Secretary has said that migrants who arrive in the UK by illegal routes will be indefinitely liable for removal.
According the the UN however, there is no blanket rule which bans asylum seekers from passing through safe countries to reach the UK, contrary to claims made by the home secretary as she recently unveiled punishing new immigration proposals.
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.
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 went on to say that 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”.
The spokesperson 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 county and its asylum procedure and if there are not compelling reasons for that person to remain in their country of intended destination”.
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”.
“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.
Priti Patel insists that her proposals are 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 route options” to create “the right pathway for them to come to the UK and be resettled and start a new life here”, however, 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.
It was reported, this week, 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.
Resettled refugees can stay in the UK for five years, under current laws, after which they must apply again for indefinite leave to remain.
Priti 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”.
Priti 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 organisation, we will work with them to create safe and legal routes so we can stop this terrible, terrible trade in people being smuggled”.
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”.