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  • Writer's pictureRory O'Keeffe, Koraki

UK plans to break international law by banning asylum

Updated: Mar 10, 2023

Proposals by the UK government to ban anyone arriving in the country by ‘irregular means’ are an illegal, immoral, and unworkable plan to outlaw all asylum claims in the UK. It will make the UK a rogue state, and should make it an international pariah.

The UK government is set to attempt to pass another illegal, unworkable, immoral plan to attack men, women and children seeking safe places to live, learn and work.

It says it will make it ‘illegal’ for people to arrive in the UK by small boats (meaning, of course that the government is well aware that it was not illegal before, and is not illegal now, despite its repeated use of the term ‘illegal immigrant’ to describe people arriving to apply for asylum on irregular routes) and that these people will be automatically prevented from applying for asylum, removed from the country, and ‘not allowed’ to return.

The UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said:

Make no mistake, if you come here illegally, you will not be able to stay.

The problem is that it is absolutely not illegal to come to a country in order to apply for asylum. However, it is illegal under international law to deny a person the right even to apply, which this proposal would do[i].

Nor is it only illegal. It is also despicable and inhuman to prevent people from trying to find some security in which to live their lives.

And we must make no mistake, this is a law which aims to prevent everyone from applying for asylum in the UK.

Because no person travelling is doing so ‘illegally’, and the government knows it.

It is focussing on ‘irregular’ routes, which even now its leading politicians misrepresent as ‘illegal’, because it knows only too well that it has deliberately and purposefully closed down all ‘regular’ routes: irregular ones are all that remains to people seeking safety, and the government now seeks to pretend those are ‘illegal’ and to ban people using them from applying for asylum, thus banning everyone who reaches the UK from applying for asylum.

We can see that this is the case in this embarrassing interview with the government’s Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, Michelle Donelan (in which she claims ‘it’s not OK’ that people have travelled through ‘safe countries’ to get to the UK: it absolutely is OK, and entirely legal) in which she was asked four times what safe routes existed for people hoping to find refuge in the UK and refused to answer each time.

On the final occasion, she was asked:

If you do not know what these routes are, how is anyone seeking asylum supposed to know?

And answered:

I am not the immigration minister

Seeming to imply that in order to find a safe route, one must be either actually the immigration minister, or as well-informed as the immigration minister, of the United Kingdom.

Here is the truth: there are no safe, regular routes for people seeking asylum in the UK, and the unsafe, irregular ones do not become more regular, or less dangerous, by breaking international law by denying people asylum for using them.

It’s important to make that last point because the government’s less openly racist ministers have repeatedly tried to claim that their reason for this idea is to ‘stop people risking their lives’. But they won’t.

People who need to travel will travel as we have seen all over the world, repeatedly. If you want to make that less dangerous, and more regular, you make sure there is safe transport, on safe routes, available to everyone who needs it. Ideally, you provide it yourself.

Equally, and connected to the previous paragraph, the plan is absolutely unworkable.

In yestrday’s (Tuesday 7 March 2023) parliamentary debate on the proposal, UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman claimed that without it:

100 million people could come to the UK.

Now this is technically true, in that there are 100 million people in the world, and the law states that all of them are entitled to leave the country in which they feel unsafe, and travel to seek asylum in another country.

But given that, it is hard to see why Braverman stopped at 100 million, and did not claim that ‘eight billion’ people could come to the UK (minus the 68m already there). Because that’s how many people are allowed to.

In the real world, of course 100 million people will not come to the UK, because they simply don’t want to and there are lots of other places to which they could go.

Braverman’s own ‘proof’ of her insane claim was that since 2018, 85,000 people had arrived in the UK by small boats (an interesting note here: so far, more than 75 per cent of people who have arrived in the UK by ‘irregular routes’ have been granted asylum in the UK, disproving at a stroke the other component of Braverman’s argument, that people arriving this way are not seeking safety and do not qualify for asylum: more than three in every four are, and do).

In five years, 85,000 people works out as 17,000 people per year.

At that rate, it would take 5,882 years for 100 million people to arrive in the UK.

For context, 5,882 years ago, the Sahara desert did not exist, and the human race had not yet discovered tin.

And let’s say the UK does have 100 million people arrive – which it absolutely won’t. What then?

Under the government’s proposal, these people will have broken UK law and will have to go to jail until they are removed to their home country, if the UK government considers it safe, or to ‘Rwanda or another safe third state’ (Braverman’s words again).

The problem is, if you don’t allow someone to apply for asylum you cannot have any idea whether the country they are from is safe for them or not. That’s why the law says you must consider every asylum application on its individual merits, and must not bar someone’s application solely because of the country from which they originate.

The government’s proposals would see applications barred, and see people returned to countries the government does not know are safe for them. It is illegal.

Equally, ‘Rwanda or another safe third state’ means ‘Rwanda’ because no other country has accepted the UK’s approaches to take people the UK wishes to illegally remove.

And the problem with ‘Rwanda’ is not only that removing people from the UK to Rwanda against their wishes is completely illegal, to the extent that the government has been trying to move 18 people for close to nine months and has not been allowed to, or even that Rwanda’s human rights record on people arriving from other states is nothing short of horrific, but also that even the Rwandan government has said it will be able to take no more than ‘a few hundred’ people from the UK in the first five years.

In 2020, the UK’s prison population was 79,400 people.

That means that even if arrival rates remain at the same level they are now, and even if the government somehow manages to send the maximum ‘few hundred’ people to Rwanda, the government’s plan would more than double the country’s prison population in the next five years (bear in mind that these people will have broken no law, killed or wounded no people, stolen or damaged no property: they would be jailed because the government is a despicable and bigoted organisation).

Jails up and down the country are already well over their capacity (at Leeds jail there are 1,095 inmates: the capacity is 641) to the extent that convicted criminals are now being held in police stations for months at a time. And the UK’s prison spending is already £5bn per year.

The country would need to more than double the number of jails it now has – it is far from clear this would be deliverable for at least three years – and massively increase its spending.

It would be far more feasible, not to mention far cheaper, far more moral, and far more beneficial to the country as a whole, to just ensure there is safe transport for all who need it, process people’s asylum applications, and let those who qualify for asylum start working and paying into the system as taxpayers.

The government’s ‘new’ alternative is to let as many people as possible die at sea, then criminalise all arrivals, sending a few of them to Rwanda at vast taxpayers’ expense and at a clear risk to their physical and mental health and safety, and keeping the rest in the UK, forcing a mass construction of new jails at enormous cost, and in the meantime having to find alternative places for them to sleep, as well as spending on food, clothes and for the children school materials, for an unlimited period.

This is what racism and bigotry do: not only treat people despicably, but make everyone in a country suffer to meet the twisted dreams of the racists.

This proposal is illegal. It will not stop people travelling. It will not reduce deaths. It will cost the UK money in the short, medium and long-terms, and it will make the UK an international pariah. To satisfy the prejudice of a few MPs, maybe 40,000 Tory Party members, and the few thousand far-Right maniacs on the fringes of society.

Almost any alternative would be better for absolutely everyone in the UK, and everyone who ever arrives in the UK, and would be more likely to work.

[i] In an unusually strong statement, UNHCR has been intensely critical of the UK government’s utterly illegal plan to deny anyone who arrives in the UK by ‘irregular means’ (there are no regular means) the opportunity to apply for asylum (Tuesday 7 March 2023 UK government announces yet another illegal, unworkable, despicable anti-refugee plan).

In response to the government’s proposal, which even the country’s Home Secretary, and the Bill’s main sponsor, Suella Braverman, says will be ‘more than 50 per cent likely to break human rights laws’, UNHCR said:

The legislation, if passed, would amount to an asylum ban – extinguishing the right to seek refugee protection in the United Kingdom for those who arrive irregularly, no matter how genuine and compelling their claim may be.

The effect of the bill would be to deny protection to many asylum seekers in need of safety and protection, and even deny them the opportunity to put forward their case.

This would be a clear breach of the refugee convention and would undermine a longstanding, humanitarian tradition of which the British people are rightly proud.

Conservative party backbenchers called for the UK to leave the European Convention on Human Rights, which is absolutely necessary (if it is not, the ECHR is not worth the paper it is written on, as this Bill breaks effectively every single thing the convention has to say about people’s right to travel) and will end the status of the UK as a responsible part of the international community.


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