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Patel’s new asylum plans will break international law, UN refugee agency warns

UNHCR says the Home Secretary's plans will cause ‘significant suffering’ to people seeking refuge in Britain

by Bethany Rielly: @b_rielly 

PRITI PATEL’S new asylum plans would break international law and cause “significant suffering” to people seeking refuge in Britain, the UN refugee agency warned MPs today. 

As it stands, the Home Secretary’s new Border Bill is “unworkable” and will keep refugees in a “situation of enforced precarity for up to 10 years,” the UNHCR said. 

The reforms, introduced by the government to deter refugee crossings, seek to make it a criminal offence to arrive in Britain without permission, punishable by up to four years in prison. 

Those who arrive via irregular routes would be denied the right to ever permanently settle and face repeated attempts to remove them. 

Giving evidence to the Nationality and Borders Bill committee today, UNHCR’s British representative Rossella Pagliuchi-Lor claimed the legislation undermines, rather than promotes, its stated goal of improving protection for those at risk of persecution.

“This system as described could actually exacerbate the current backlog and increase the cost by making procedures longer,” she told MPs. 

“This will delay the integration of those found to be refugees eventually and will also hamper the return of those who are not found to be in need of protection.”

She added: “If applied as it stands the Bill will cause very significant harm to people really guilty of nothing more than seeking asylum in the UK.”

Ahead of the committee session, UNHCR confirmed the legislation would break international law. The Bill is based on the premise that refugees should claim asylum in the “first safe country” they reach – but the agency says there is no such requirement in international law. 

Ms Pagliuchi-Lor said Ms Patel’s changes also risk “triggering a race to the bottom,” where countries try to diminish their responsibilities under the Refugee Convention. 

The Bill is currently being scrutinised by MPs after passing its first and second reading in the House of Commons earlier this year. MPs heard today that the Borders Bill will break international human rights law on trafficking and torture. 

The Home Office has also faced a huge backlash over plans to turn back boats in the Channel. On Wednesday, the department’s most senior official Matthew Rycroft claimed there was a legal basis for the tactic but refused to specify what circumstances it could be used in. 

Anti-racism campaign group Barac launched a petition this week to stop the government’s bid to carry out pushbacks in the Channel, branding the tactic a “an abuse of human rights.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The entire Government is determined to tackle the unacceptable rise in dangerous Channel crossings at every level.

 “The New Plan for Immigration provides the only long-term solution to fix the broken system, which includes changes to the law to tackle criminal gangs and prevent further loss of life. It fully complies with all our international obligations including under the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN Refugee Convention.

 “People should seek protection in the first safe country they reach, like France. They should not, after having obtained safety, make further unnecessary and dangerous journeys to their preferred destination as a matter of choice.”

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