Priti Patel’s plans to return asylum seekers snubbed by EU countries

The UN has criticised the UK government’s controversial asylum plans as so damaging they risked Britain’s ‘global credibility’, as shown when not a single European country is prepared to support the new plans.

The Home Office has been unable to persuade any European state to sign up to the scheme, six weeks after the home secretary Priti Patel unveiled the immigration overhaul, which includes deporting migrants who enter the UK illegally to safe countries such as ‘ France and other EU countries’.

The UN’s refugee agency is soon to publish its detailed legal opinion into Patel’s asylum proposals that is likely to conclude her plans infringe international legislation and are unworkable.  Despite this, Patel’s asylum proposals are to feature in the Queen’s speech on Tuesday, which lays out the government’s legislative agenda for the next year.

The complete lack of any bilateral European agreements to return migrants from the UK, alongside a warning from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that the Home Office proposals risk undermining longstanding global agreements to offer protection to refugees, already casts doubt on its future.

UNHCR representative to the UK, Rossella Pagliuchi-Lor  says that the UK’s plans threatened the integrity of the UN refugee convention, which the government helped write in 1951, and which seeks to protect individuals fleeing persecution or catastrophe.

Ms Pagliuchi-Lor went on to say: “If a country like the UK, still wealthy despite the Covid downturn, and with relatively low numbers of asylum seekers, seeks to back away from its obligations under the convention, what message does it send to others hosting large numbers?.  There is no question that the UK has won a reputation as a country of asylum, and with it considerable global credibility, which it has in fact,used to advocate for open asylum abroad. The aim should be a system that balances responsibility sharing among countries”.

The UK’s plans appear not to comply with the 1951 convention that obliges countries to protect refugees on their territory. She continued: “As is often the case in international law, compliance depends on states ‘willingness to act in line with their commitments’.

Her comments followed significant disquiet over the government’s consultation, which ended last Thursday, on its fundamental changes to refugee policy.  A total of 192 refugee, human rights, legal and faith groups recently signed a public statement denouncing the exercise as a ‘sham’.

The Law Society’s submission to the consultation described the planned changes as ‘undermining access to justice and making a mockery of British fair Play’.

The UNHCR revealed that it has offered to help the UK government reform the asylum system but has yet to receive a formal response from the Home Office. Pagliuchi-Lor said: “Our proposals aim at finding quick fixes within the existing system, based partly on experiences of other countries.  Of course we’re ready to discuss further improvements with the UK”.

This follows reports last week that hundreds of people seeking asylum in the UK have already been warned that they could be removed to other countries in Europe, despite Brexit removing Britain’s power to make such transfers and the fact that it has no legal agreement with the EU nations to take these people back.

When the UK quit the EU’s single market on 1st January it also left the so called Dublin regulation, the legal mechanism that allows the EU governments to transfer applicants back to other member states where they had previously been registered.

A UK government spokesperson said: “Our new plan for immigration is fully in line with our international and legal obligations including the UN refugee convention and the European convention on human rights.  People should claim asylum in the first safe country they arrive in rather than making life threatening journeys to the UK”.