GENEVA: A British draft law unveiled Tuesday aimed at stopping migrants entering illegally on small boats will amount to an asylum ban, the UN warned, calling for “more humane” solutions instead.
The United Nations refugee agency said it was “profoundly concerned” by plans that would give the British interior minister a new legal duty to deport all migrants entering illegally, such as those crossing the Channel from France in inflatable boats.
“The legislation, if passed, would amount to an asylum ban – extinguishing the right to seek refugee protection in the United Kingdom for those who arrive irregularly, no matter how genuine and compelling their claim may be, and with no consideration of their individual circumstances,” UNHCR said in a statement.
The bill would deny protection to asylum-seekers who needed safety and would “even deny them the opportunity to put forward their case. This would be a clear breach of the Refugee Convention”.
“Most people fleeing war and persecution are simply unable to access the required passports and visas. There are no safe and ‘legal’ routes available to them,” UNHCR said. “Denying them access to asylum on this basis undermines the very purpose for which the Refugee Convention was established.”
UNHCR said that based on the British interior ministry’s most recent data, the vast majority of those arriving in Britain in small boats over the Channel would be accepted as refugees if their claims were assessed.
“Branding refugees as undeserving based on mode of arrival distorts these fundamental facts,” it said.
UNHCR said it had presented London with solid, actionable proposals for fast, fair and efficient case processing and would work with Britain to expand safe, regular pathways for refugees to reach the UK, but said these were limited and “can never substitute for access to asylum”.
The Geneva-based agency urged the British government and all parliamentarians “to reconsider the bill and instead pursue more humane and practical policy solutions”.
Earlier, the British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak vowed to remove illegal migrants within weeks under a controversial new plan to stop people crossing the Channel illegally on small boats.
Sunak was speaking after his Conservative government unveiled its proposals, which it acknowledged were stretching international law amid an outcry from rights campaigners. More than 45,000 migrants arrived on the shores of southeast England on small boats last year – a 60% annual increase on a perilous route that has grown in popularity every year since 2018.
Under the draft law, which will be retrospective to Tuesday, anyone arriving illegally in the UK will not be able to claim asylum, Sunak told a news conference.
“If you come here illegally, you can’t claim asylum. You can’t benefit from our modern slavery protections. You can’t make spurious human rights claims and you can’t stay,” he said.
“We will detain those who come here illegally and then remove them in weeks, either to their own country if it is safe to do so. Or to a Safe Third Country like Rwanda and once you are removed, you will be banned as you are in America and Australia from ever re-entering our country.”
Sunak earlier Tuesday pledged in The Sun newspaper to “take back control of our borders once and for all”, reprising a popular pledge from campaigners like him who backed Britain’s Brexit divorce from the European Union (EU). (Int’l News Desk)