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UNHCR appeals to UK to uphold international obligations as Sunak reveals 5-point immigration plan

December 14, 2022 at 11:04 am

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on November 19, 2022 [Ukrainian Presidency/Anadolu Agency]

The UNHCR has appealed to the UK to uphold its international obligations as the government said yesterday that it planned to bring in new legislation to prevent migrants who cross the English Channel from staying in the country.

Under Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s new five-point strategy Albanian asylum seekers will be returned via a fast-track scheme. Albania will be deemed a ‘safe country’, meaning most claims will be rejected and thousands returned on weekly flights.

Sunak told parliament: “If you enter the UK illegally you should not be able to remain here. Instead, you will be detained and swiftly returned either to your home country or a safe country where your asylum claim will be considered.”

Also, under the strategy caseworkers for asylum cases will be doubled to clear the backlog of some 150,000 asylum cases.

The prime minister said that refugees would be housed in disused holiday parks, former university halls and surplus military sites instead of hotels, as much as possible.

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An operational command will be set up to coordinate intelligence and enforcement against immigration crime.

The UNHCR says that the announcement marks a “troubling step” away from the UK’s tradition of standing in solidarity with refugees around the world impacted by crises.

In a press release the UNHCR said it welcomed many of the measures announced yesterday, including that asylum claims will be decided on promptly and returns of those not found to be in need of international protection stepped up.

However, the UN body warned against the designation of safe countries of origin leading to blanket rejections of applications for asylum.

“The announced proposal to first detain, and then either return asylum seekers to their home countries, or transfer them to a third country, would amount to a denial of access to the UK asylum system for those who arrive irregularly,” stated UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Gillian Triggs.

“That approach would close down access to asylum in the UK for all but a privileged few. This would likely result in refugees having no means to establish their status and place them at risk of forced return to their own countries, in breach of the Refugee Convention. It would also undermine the global refugee system at large and would be a violation of International Refugee Law.”

Almost 45,000 people have crossed the English Channel on small boats so far this year. Charities have consistently called on the government to provide safe routes for them.

An estimated 30 people are feared to have drowned in the Channel last night as their small boat attempted to cross in freezing conditions. A major search and rescue operation is currently underway.