5 December 2022: UNHCR News Comment on UK Asylum Reform Proposals
This news comment is attributable to Vicky Tennant, UNHCR Representative to the United Kingdom
UNHCR notes with concern the proposals presented in a report issued today by the Centre for Policy Studies on UK asylum reform.
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. Resettlement is a complementary system. It cannot replace obligations under International Law to provide access to asylum.
UNHCR shares the UK’s concerns regarding the rising numbers of asylum seekers undertaking dangerous journeys across the Channel. 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.
An appropriate response to the increase in arrivals and to the UK’s current asylum backlog would include strengthening and expediting decision-making procedures, ensuring that those without well-founded claims are returned to their own countries; and stepping up cooperation with its European neighbours, including through multilateral transfer systems. Expanding safe, regular pathways for refugees to travel to the UK would also offer real alternatives to dangerous, irregular journeys.
We continue to urge the United Kingdom Government to pursue humane and cost-effective measures to ensure that refugees receive the protection they need, while addressing the complex challenges presented by the rise in Channel crossings.
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