The United Nations‘ refugee body has condemned a report – backed by home secretary Suella Braverman – which called for asylum seekers who enter the UK “illegally” to be detained indefinitely and banned from ever settling here.
No 10 did not rule out barring migrants arriving in small boats via the English Channel from ever settling in the UK after Ms Braverman wrote a foreword to the report by the Centre for Policy Studies.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the right-wing think tank’s radical plan contained a series of “factual and legal errors” about the asylum process and international law.
The body said it was wrong for the radical report to try to designate some asylum seekers “illegal” – a term also frequently used by Ms Braverman and the Home Office.
“There is no such thing as an ‘illegal asylum seeker’,” said Vicky Tennant, UNHCR representative to the UK.
“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,” she added.
The UNHCR chief also said that any attempt to impose a “blanket ban” on asylum claims from those arriving on small boats would “breach the refugee convention” – if it meant they had no means to establish their status and were at risk of enforced return.
She added: “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.”
The Centre for Policy Studies paper, co-authored by Theresa May’s former aide Nick Timothy and partially endorsed by Ms Braverman, recommended legislating to make it impossible to claim asylum in Britain after travelling from a safe country.
The report also called for the overhaul of human rights laws – with the UK “if necessary” withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – to help with the “offshoring” of migrants to Rwanda and other countries.
Daniel Sohege, director of the Stand for All charity, said the report’s plan would not allow the government to claim it was “offshoring” asylum claims by sending people to Rwanda or any other country.
“It isn’t offshoring if you refuse to ever let them back or process their claims. It’s forced transportation … It is also massively counterproductive, as well as potentially illegal and definitely inhumane,” said Mr Sohege.
Rishi Sunak’s official spokesman said the home secretary “made clear” she did not agree with all of the report’s suggestions. But he said it was true the government recognises “the need to go further on this important issue”.
In her foreword, Ms Braverman said calling for action on “illegal migration” was not “xenophobic or anti-immigration” and vowed to deliver “operational and legislative changes necessary to comprehensively tackle this problem”.
The Refugee Council said Ms Braverman appeared to be flirting with “increasingly harsh, unworkable policies” which would contravene basic human rights commitments.
“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,” said chief executive Enver Solomon.