PROPOSALS endorsed by Suella Braverman to lock up refugees arriving in small boats and bar them from ever settling in Britain would breach international law, the United Nations refugee agency warned today.
The idea were set out in a report by right-wing think tank the Centre for Policy Studies, with a foreword written by the Home Secretary — seen as a partial endorsement of the measures.
The report suggests that,“if necessary” to tackle small boat crossings, Britain should withdraw from the European Convention of Human Rights.
People who arrive “illegally” in Britain, it says, should be detained indefinitely and ministers should legislate to make it impossible to for a person who travels here from a “safe” country to claim asylum.
Hitting out at the report, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) questioned the authors’ use of the term “illegal,” noting that there is “no such thing as an illegal asylum-seeker.”
UNHCR representative Vicky Tennant said: “The report contains critical factual and legal errors regarding the international legal status of refugees and asylum-seekers.
“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.
“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.”
The UN agency, which serves as the guardian of the refugee convention worldwide, has frequently spoken out against the Tory government’s increasingly hostile approach to asylum-seekers.
In September, UNHCR gave evidence to the High Court against Home Office plans to deport asylum-seekers to Rwanda.
It was previously rare for the UNHCR to offer such strongly worded criticism of British government asylum policy.
Refugee Council chief executive Enver Solomon said that the policies would amount to Britain “walking away from the Refugee Convention.
“The government seems intent on doubling down on the hostile environment with increasingly harsh, unworkable policies,” he said.
“The asylum system isn’t operating effectively, but the answers don’t lie in floating more punitive measures that are impracticable and completely out of step with British values.
“The solutions are to be found in tackling the backlog of asylum cases through the creation of a dedicated task force and in the UK leading the way in developing the safe routes needed to address what is a global refugee challenge.”
The Home Secretary welcomed the report, insisting in the foreword that she is committed to do “whatever it takes” to stop people crossing the English Channel in small boats.
Ms Braverman has repeatedly described the boat crossings as illegal, despite many of those on board claiming asylum upon arrival in Britain.
Refugee charities have called on the government to tackle dangerous crossings by opening safe routes, rather than seeking to create new deterrents.
The Tory government’s approach has also prompted some of the party’s own members to express concern. In one intervention, a former Home Office minister said that the government’s tough rhetoric on the issue was not working.
Conservative MP Kit Malthouse told Radio 4 on Sunday night: “I worry slightly that the kind of rhetoric of ‘let’s be tough, let’s just get tougher and tougher’ is just not getting us anywhere and that actually I’d much rather hear smart solutions than tough ones.”