On 24 March, Priti Patel announced a New Immigration Plan aimed at stopping unregulated entries in the UK. Under this plan, asylum claims would be assessed primarily on how immigrants arrive in the country. The UN warns it breaches Britain’s international obligations under the Refugee Convention. 

The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has presented in Parliament what she has called a “fair but firm” overhaul of the asylum system. Under this plan, the way an immigrant enters the UK would be the main factor when assessing asylum claims. In this way, as The Telegraph has explained, a person could be granted asylum but could be denied the right to settle if their arrival in the UK was via “illegal routes”.

Patel said it is a necessary step to stop people “dying at sea, in lorries and in shipping containers” after putting their lives “in the hands of criminal gangs” that smuggle them into the UK. She also said the UK will provide refuge to those in need who arrive through “safe and legal routes”, but has not specified yet what those legal routes are.

According to the BBC, Labour said the plans lack “compassion and competence” and that would do “next to nothing to stop people making dangerous crossings.”

Researcher on migration at Oxford University’s Migration Observatory, Peter Walsh, said: “There are no ways of claiming asylum in the UK legally because to do that you have to reach the UK first. There is no asylum visa, so you must either arrive clandestinely or come to the UK for another purpose –with a student visa or as a tourist– and then claim asylum when you arrive; and that will imply deception to the authorities, and that’s technically also illegal, so what are the legal routes to which Priti Patel refers to?”

Secretary-general at the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, Catherine Woollard, said that seeking asylum is “a human right and the nature of forced displacement”, and that this new plan “appears to contravene the Refugee Convention, as the UN has highlighted.”

Under this convention, signatory states can’t impose penalties on refugees on accounts of illegal entry or presence when they come “directly” from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened. 

According to the BBC, “official sources say Ms Patel’s restrictions would be legally possible because asylum seekers are not allowed to go “shopping” for the best destination.” Patel said to Sky News that if people arrive via unregulated routes from a safe country -e.g. France-, that safe country has the “moral duty” to process that claim. 

Priti Patel also stated that the UK has resettled more international refugees than any other EU country since 2015, and that the asylum system is “collapsing”, “becoming overwhelmed” and “has skyrocketed in cost”.

In contrast, Peter Walsh said: “Asylum seeker numbers in the UK are a third of what they were 20 years ago. Other EU countries like Italy, Spain, France, and especially Germany, have taken tens of thousands more refugees.”

According to Catherine Woollard: “The UK’s approach is based on so many myths. […] 80 million people are forcibly displaced and 90% of them are in developing countries. We have to shift the narrative and explain the reality of this displacement and who is actually supporting people.”

Patel said the UK would consider “third country removals and bilateral agreements” to send asylum seekers back to their first country of arrival. However, as The Guardian pointed out, Priti Patel has not secured deals with any European countries over these returns.

John Campbell, Emeritus Reader of Anthropology and Law at SOAS University of London, explained: “Once Brexit went into effect […] the UK is no longer able to use the returns directive of the EU or the Dublin transfers to return refugees, so they are unable to deal with failed asylum seekers;[…] and following the australian position of offshoring refugees would be extremely expensive.”

According to The Guardian, the Government is considering shipping asylum seekers to destinations like the Isle of Man, Gibraltar and Scottish islands. The UN Refugee Agency is “extremely concerned by these reports” and has warned that this plan “risks eroding international protection for refugees.” 

The Founder and Director of The Hummingbird Refugee Project, Elaine Ortiz, told the Badger: 

“This government has removed the only two legal routes for child refugees stuck in Europe”, and that “hands power and control over to traffickers and smugglers, who sell solutions to be reunited with family, through exploitation and abuse.”

Chief Executive at Refugee Radio, Stephen Silverwood, told The Badger: “The Home Secretary is not pulling up the drawbridge; she is scrambling her way to Number 10 on the bodies of dead refugees”.

Picture Credit: Number 10

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