UNESCO RILA Statement on the Home Secretaries Speech at the Conservative Party on an end to asylum

Published: 4 October 2022

There are at present no safe and legal routes to asylum in the U.K. There are no illegal routes to arriving in a country if it is to see asylum.

Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.

There are at present no safe and legal routes to asylum in the U.K.

There are no illegal routes to arriving in a country if it is to seek asylum.

These are central tenets of the Refugee Convention and have formed part of our international obligations for over 70 years. Through many of those 70 years the economic and social situation in the UK has been difficult and upholding such tenets is not easy. It is an obligation to which we have committed.

To repeat: Entering the U.K. by irregular routes – by sea, without documentation, on false papers – is not illegal. Where those seeking asylum come from contexts for which there is no direct route into the U.K. they are not bound to claim asylum in the first safe country however much the Home Secretary states this as if it is fact.

The Home Secretary, Ms. Braverman, has announced at the Conservative Party Conference that it is her intention to end the right to claim asylum in the UK. This undoes decades of progress in Human Rights and protection, ignores detailed and careful diplomatic work undertaken by UNHCR and most importantly places of thousands of people in acute danger.

She has redoubled the Government’s commitment to the deportation of those who seek asylum to Rwanda and she has turned against the Modern Slavery Act, The European Court of Human Rights, and those who see asylum themselves.

She has declared countries to be safe when the right to asylum is an individual right not based on country circumstances alone. For instance, in the case of Albania the Government’s own country guidance of September 2022 includes this statement of fact:

“In its 11 December 2021 report, Global Initiative cited data provided by an NGO working with affected families in Shkodra. The data indicated that, at a national level as of 2018, ‘... 704 families are engaged in blood feud, 113 of which have moved abroad.’ The report showed the number of families affected by blood feud at the national level, 2018.”

Albanian Government, 2022

The Home Secretary stated in her speech at the Conservative Party Conference 2022:

“So conference I will commit to you today that I will look to bring forward legislation to make it clear that the only route to the UK is through a safe and legal route […] so if you deliberately enter the UK illegally from a safe country you should be swiftly returned to your home country or relocated to Rwanda.”

Immigration lawyers will dissect this statement, as will courts in the future, but this is a direct statement of intent of refoulement – the return of those with asylum claims to a place of potential danger – or of the state engaging in its own form of trafficking, as in the Rwanda deal.

UNHCR has already made multiple legal submissions on the illegality of the Government’s Rwanda proposal and we await the Supreme Court’s own ruling.

As the war in Ukraine escalates, as Russians fleeing the draft begin to try and reach family in the U.K; as Ukrainians take up the offer of a visa, an offer denied to, for instance, the thousands of Ehtiopians and Eritreans caught up in the world’s bloodiest and deadliest conflict at this present time – it is vital that the 6th richest country in the world and signatory of the Convention plays its part. This means the right to a fair determination of an asylum claim; that those seeking asylum will not be criminalised for exercising their human right.

The Home Secretary stressed the importance of integration as part of the process of migration. Her own family were lucky enough to have been able to enter the UK by safe and legal routes. Thousands are not able to do so. Her own family, as she stated, were lucky enough to learn English. The classes for English learning and for other languages spoken as official languages in the UK like Welsh and Gaelic are presently chronically under resourced for those seeking asylum or on other forms of protection visa. Integration relies on a two way process and in Scotland, where care for those seeking asylum and refuge is devolved, it is a two way process, it is dynamic, trauma informed and intercultural.

The inaccurate sketch of asylum the Home Secretary put forward today is firmly designed to create a fear of the other, through the two extreme examples she cited. It is therefore xenophobic. It is the opposite of a human rights led approach to integration and care for those who seek asylum including the commitment in Scotland to integration from day one of arrival.

The UNESCO Chair calls on the Home Secretary to uphold and strengthen the Refugee Convention and to abandon the proposals presented today, working instead with those who have long expertise and knowledge of the system and the unsafe and irregular routes that are never chosen willingly, but in desperation.


Professor Alison Phipps | UNESCO Chair in Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts

First published: 4 October 2022

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