UK aims to become a fortress against refugees

Following in Denmark's footsteps, London wants to send all those who enter without permission abroad while it processes asylum

3 min
Members of the UK Border Force drive migrants into the port of Dover after being picked up in a light boat in the waters of the Hose Channel on 9 June.

LondonThe much-hyped Brexit slogan "Let's take back control of our borders" already has another political consequence. With the beginning of the processing this week of the nationality and borders bill, the United Kingdom is placed "outside the international legality" and breaks the pact signed in 1951 of the United Nations refugee convention. This is the opinion of Leonie Ansems de Vries, professor of international relations and chair of the Migration Research Group at King's College London, who considers the legal proposal that Home Secretary Priti Patel has brought to Parliament to be "a counterproductive response to forced migration and represents a form of violence that undermines international law".

The most controversial aspect of the law, which was already targeted last September, is the possible management of the offshore of the asylum requests of those who enter the United Kingdom "irregularly", that is, without the necessary legal documents to do so. In principle, this group could be transferred to asylum centres abroad, where they would be held until their claims had been processed. The spirit of the law makes it virtually impossible for any of these applicants to be accepted in the British Isles.

The UK would thus follow in the footsteps of Denmark, which early last June passed controversial legislation to outsource asylum claims to countries outside the European Union, in this case Rwanda. The Times reported Monday that Patel has established contacts in Copenhagen to share the centre that the Danes have agreed to set up in the African country. Previously, according to documents revealed last year by the Financial Times, London had considered the options of different islands in the South Atlantic to establish these refugee colonies.

A dubious justification

The same reasons given by the British Home Office to justify outsourcing are also given by Denmark. The theory is that the law breaks a "negative incentive structure of the current system, unjust and unethical because it encourages children, women and men to embark on dangerous journeys along the migration routes, while human traffickers make fortunes". But as Tim Naor Hilton, chief executive of Action for Refugees, said, the bill is "repressing traumatised people who only want to build a new life here". In his view, it is "the latest in a long line of government actions that have been costly to taxpayers and simply increase the activity of human traffickers", the very thing the bill says it aims to prevent.

In any case, as Professor Ansems de Vries reminded ARA, "these plans are not compatible with international law and have been widely condemned by civil society and international organisations, including the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR)". The same has been done by other British refugee aid and legal bodies. The Law Society of England and Wales has warned that the bill is "likely" to breach the UK's obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Australia, a benchmark

Both London's and Denmark's policies are mirrored by Australia's 2001 policy. All asylum seekers who wish to apply for refugee status in that country, but who arrive by sea, are banned from entering and are sent to maritime centres in neighbouring countries, such as Papua New Guinea.

Just over 6,000 people have arrived on the shores of Dover this year, trying to enter the UK on board a dinghy. In 2020 more than 36,000, including dependants, applied for asylum in the UK. By the end of the year 109,000 claims had been processed. But there are still 79,000 who have been waiting in the queue for more than a year. Soon the vast majority could find themselves in Rwanda or any other territory chosen by the London authorities. The perversion of the new system proposed by the law is that most refugee claimants arrive from conflict zones, have to flee desperately and have neither the time nor the possibility to apply for entry, in this case into the UK, legally. And if they enter and are detained, they will be deported abroad and will no longer be able to claim asylum. The Brexit UK, supposedly global, is closing in on itself more and more.