The United Nations (UN) has warned that Home Secretary Priti Patel’s recently-announced ‘New Plan on Immigration’ will ‘damage lives’ and ‘undermine international cooperation’.
The warning- issued by the UN’s refugee agency- follows on from a string of criticism of the Home Secretary’s proposals, with the Law Society of England Wales also highlighting the ‘serious threat’ posed to the rule of law.
The UN’s refugee agency has ‘deep concerns’ regarding the proposed two-tier asylum system, and has labelled the approach ‘discriminatory’. It has also implored the Home Secretary to rethink the plans.
The consultation period for the ‘New Plan on Immigration’ has also been the subject of intense criticism, with a range of migrants’ rights organisations labelling it a ‘sham’.
Were the proposals to be made into law, they would see migrants travelling to the UK via ‘unauthorised routes’ denied the automatic right to asylum. Such migrants would be frequently assessed for removal to a ‘safe country’ that was passed through in transit to the UK.
Migrants who the government are unable to remove immediately will be offered a temporary UK immigration status, valid for up to 30 months, with abridged rights and benefits in addition to limited family reunion rights.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the ‘New Plan on Immigration’ risks ‘breaching international legal commitments, undermining global refugee cooperation, as well as leading to damaging effects on asylum seekers arriving via unauthorized routes’. The UNHCR also pointed out that the plan would be expensive and difficult to implement.
Rossella Pagliuchi-Lor, the UK’s UNCHR representative, warned that the Home Office’s proposals would fail to deter the influx of vulnerable migrants and that the human cost would be ‘real and harmful’.
She said: “Living under the constant threat of expulsion will hamper the ability to integrate, and push people into precarity and exploitation. Mental health will suffer. This feels like a recipe for social problems.”
Potential system collapse
Ms Pagliuchi-Lor added:
“If all refugees were obliged to remain in the first safe country they entered, the whole system would probably collapse. A few gateway countries would be overwhelmed, while countries further removed, like the UK, would share little responsibility.”
Ms Pagliuchi-Lor also described the immigration plans as unfair and unworkable, and stated that they go against the spirit of international cooperation supported by the UK at the UN General Assembly and the Global Compact on Refugees.
Further to this, the UNHCR vocalised concerns regarding the Home Office’s plans to alter the ‘well-founded fear of persecution test for refugee status, saying that it ‘departs from international standards’.
In response to the Home Secretary’s proposals for offshore asylum processing, the UNHCR flagged that the move would lead to forced transfers to countries with inadequate asylum systems, which in turn would inflict substantial harm on asylum seekers.
Look at the context
The UN has called on the Home Office to ‘look at the context’ and understand that an increase in arrivals via unauthorised routes in recent years does not equate to a ‘mass influx’. The intergovernmental organisation added that the UK’s numbers are ‘modest’ in contrast to other European countries.
The UNHCR also advised the Home Office to develop a ‘well-designed, fair and fast asylum procedure to work out who qualifies for refugee status’, and recommended greater investment upfront to address issues identified in the plan, for example around appeals and backlogs.
Ms Pagliuchi-Lor said:
“It is entirely possible for the UK to protect its borders, and security, while implementing fair, humane and efficient policies towards asylum-seekers in line with the 1951 convention. These are not mutually exclusive. It’s not too late for a rethink. We’re ready to work with the UK on alternative reforms.”
Law Society of England and Wales
The UN’s warning follows concerns raised by the Law Society of England and Wales, which hold that the proposals undermine access to justice and pose a ‘serious threat’ to the rule of law.
According to the society: “The reforms will make a mockery of British fair play and risk overturning the principle that everyone is equal.”
A UK government spokesperson said:
“The plans are fully in line with our international and legal obligations. People should claim asylum in the first safe country they arrive in rather than making life-threatening journeys to the UK.
We are reforming the asylum system so it is fair but firm, welcoming those who come to the UK through safe and legal routes while cracking down on criminal gangs that facilitate these dangerous and illegal journeys.”
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