The refugee crisis isn’t just confined to the borders of any specific country; it is a global crisis. However, increasing numbers of countries are seeking ways to distance themselves from the responsibilities defined in the 1951 Refugee Convention. Australia was the first to adopt these externalisation techniques by introducing, amongst other things, offshoring procedures. Due to the ‘success’ of these procedures, European countries are starting to follow suit. The country presently making headlines is the UK, with its proposed amendments to the Nationality and Borders Bill.
The Nationality and Borders Bill is aimed at making provisions about nationality, asylum and immigration. Amendments to it have been proposed, and the decision process on whether the changes will be accepted or not is currently ongoing.
Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, is of the opinion that the driving force behind the bill is the belief that making entry to the UK via the Chunnel as unattractive as possible will deter people from trying to get into the country. He disagrees and only expects that the bill will make the situation worse.
The 1951 Refugee Convention was approved over seven decades ago, in which the rights of people seeking asylum and the responsibilities of countries that grant it were defined. Presently, the UK government is proposing a bill that is in no way in line with the Convention. Enver Solomon highlighted two key principles of the convention namely the sharing of responsibility of refugees between all signatories of the convention and the notion that every person has individual agency to determine where he or she choose to make an asylum application.
The most significant aspect of the bill is that everyone who arrives in the UK via overland travel will have done so illegally and if they entered through a third ‘safe’ country, they should have made the asylum application there, thus making their claim in the UK illegitimate. This would make almost all cases inadmissible and directly oppose the Refugee Convention principle of having the agency to determine where to seek asylum.
The Home Office argues in favour of the bill, stating that the asylum system is broken and that it aims to break the cycle of human smuggling. No one can argue that the asylum system is broken, with some people awaiting asylum for years and needing to stay in hotels that do not meet health and safety requirements. However, as the government has been in power for 10 years now, Enver argues that they have been presiding over the crumbling of the very system they criticise. Additionally, those going to the UK do so mostly because of the desire to reconnect with family members or their grasp of the English language is good enough that they can communicate with locals and more easily adapt to the country, which means that the attempt to make entry as unattractive as possible won’t yield the results the government thinks it will.
In Enver’s opinion, large elements of the bill will unravel and are rhetoric in nature. It will increase delays in the system and by the calculations of the Refugee Council, at least 8000 cases will be ruled inadmissible. Enver fears the people affected by the new regulations will get stuck in the system, unable to find work or travel to other countries. There are ways to deal with the refugee crisis correctly, but these take time and effort, both of which Enver does not think the current government has any intention of investing.
This article contains information from the online meeting hosted by AEJ UK and was written by Danica Van der Merwe, intern at AEJ Belgium.