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UNHCR: There is no such thing as an 'illegal asylum seeker'

A UNHCR worker with asylum seekers who were at sea, 22 September 2020 [UNHCRLibya/Twitter]
A UNHCR worker with asylum seekers who were at sea, 22 September 2020 [UNHCRLibya/Twitter]

UNHCR has criticised a report issued by the Centre for Policy Studies on UK asylum reform, which includes a blanket ban on anyone arriving on a small boat from claiming asylum, with the UN agency stating that access to asylum should not be dependent on how people arrive, or their nationality.

Among the report's recommendations is that the Modern Slavery Act should be reformed to include a ban on entire nationalities such as Albania using the act to claim asylum.

"A blanket ban on claiming asylum in the UK for those arriving in small boats would breach the Refugee Convention," said Vicky Tenant, UNHCR Representative to the UK, "if this results in refugees having no means to establish their status and places them at risk of enforced return to their own countries."

The centre-right think-tank said in its report that refugees who do arrive this way should be rapidly offshored to a third country and that Britain may have to leave the European Convention on Human Rights to allow detention and offshoring.

READ: UK home secretary to announce law to ban migrants crossing the English Channel

It also recommends the indefinite detention of all asylum seekers who enter the country "illegally", a term UNHCR rejects: "There is no such thing as an 'illegal asylum seeker'," Tenant said, adding that everyone has the right to seek asylum from persecution in another country.

Some 44,000 people have arrived in the UK across the Channel this year, but it is not only these refugees who will be affected by the proposals in the report. Among the suggestions are laws to prevent people claiming asylum in Britain after travelling from a safe country.

All future asylum claims, says the report which has been endorsed by the Home Secretary Suella Braverman, should be made through official resettlement routes, and a statutory cap of 20,000 a year should be set. The report was co-authored by Theresa May's former chief of staff.

"An appropriate response to the increase in arrivals and to the UK's current asylum backlog would include strengthening and expediting decision-making procedures, ensuring that those without well-founded claims are returned to their own countries," Tenant said, "and stepping up cooperation with its European neighbours, including through multilateral transfer systems. Expanding safe, regular pathways for refugees to travel to the UK would also offer real alternatives to dangerous, irregular journeys."

"We continue to urge the United Kingdom Government to pursue humane and cost-effective measures to ensure that refugees receive the protection they need, while addressing the complex challenges presented by the rise in Channel crossings."

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