UK asylum plans will 'stigmatise' arrivals, break international law, UNHCR says

UK asylum plans will 'stigmatise' arrivals, break international law, UNHCR says
The UK government's heavily contested new plan for asylum seekers, if allowed to be continued, will break international law, says the UN's refugee agency.
3 min read
23 September, 2021
Priti Patel's plan for asylum seekers has been strongly criticised by rights groups [Getty]


The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has said that UK Home Secretary Priti Patel's asylum plans would be in violation of international law, saying the proposals would make asylum seekers feel "unworthy and unwelcome".

The Nationality and Borders Bill, which was published in July, is currently in the committee stage at the House of Commons and has made it through two readings.

Rights groups and politicians have criticised the plans for creating a “temporary protection status” for refugees, which would essentially make it harder for refugees to have all the rights of the 1951 Convention.

In some case, the bill would only offer refugees some of these rights, including the right to a family, and it would also make it a punishable crime for an asylum seeker to enter the UK without permission.

Those who do so would face up to four years in prison.

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Speaking on the bill, Rossella Pagliuchi-Lor, UNHCR’s UK representative, told The Independent: “This bill would undermine, not promote, the government’s stated goal of improving protection for those at risk of persecution. It seems to be aimed at deterring refugees, but there’s no evidence that would be the result.”

She added: “Those arriving irregularly will be stigmatised as unworthy and unwelcome, kept in a precarious status for ten years, denied access to public funds unless destitute. Family reunion will be restricted.”

According to the bill, asylum seekers should seek refuge in the “first safe country”, however that is not a requirement under international law.

Moreover, critics say this is not practical.

“Priti Patel’s Nationality & Borders Bill, if enacted will have major implications on the protection of trafficked persons in the UK,” said Labour councillor Alev Cazimoglu on Twitter.

“The result will be a regression in the protection of trafficked persons. Goes against everything our great country stands for. Down pointing backhand index.”

“Priti Patel and the Tories say they're motivated by compassion, but being compassionate really isn't that hard,” said Zoe Gardner, from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants.

“If you believe in protecting refugees, protect refugees. Don't play absurd games between countries of "who touched it last" to pass people back & forth across borders.”

Patel was criticised last week after a Guardian investigation found conditions in hotels used by the Home Office to accommodate asylum seekers during the pandemic are like detention centres, and a report said they were at times unsafe.