The British interior minister has revealed plans to introduce new powers making it easier for the government to deport Channel migrants. She also said it was her "dream" to see asylum seekers finally sent to Rwanda.
Just a few weeks after being appointed as the UK's Home Secretary (interior minister), Suella Braverman has proposed new powers to tackle what the government terms "illegal" immigration to the UK.
Speaking at the Conservative Party's annual conference on Tuesday (October 4), Braverman said she would introduce new legislation designed to enable the government to deport anyone coming to the country by boat from France.
"We have to stop the boats from crossing the Channel. This has gone on for far too long," she said.
"I will pledge to you today that I will bring forward legislation to make it clear that the only route to the United Kingdom is through a safe and legal route."
Committed to Rwanda plan
More than 30,000 migrants have crossed the Channel so far this year, despite the government’s plans to deport arrivals to Africa in order to deter others from making the journey. The first planned deportation flight to Rwanda in June was stopped by an injunction from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).
Continuing legal challenges will likely mean that no planes will take off before Christmas, according to the Home Secretary, but she said at an earlier event on the sidelines of the conference that she will work to prevent the ECtHR from overruling the UK in future.
She added that seeing a flight leaving to take asylum seekers to Rwanda is her "dream" and "obsession", despite criticism from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, who has called the policy "catastrophic", as well as many other groups.
Crackdown on abusers
In her speech, Braverman drew a clear line between migrants who were in "genuine need" and others who were "abusing the rules." She repeated a plan, outlined in an interview with the British paper The Sun on Sunday to reform the Modern Slavery Act as part of her aim to make it easier to deport "Channel migrants and foreign criminals."
According to the government, large numbers of migrants crossing the Channel are claiming to be victims of human trafficking in order to be allowed to remain in the UK. It amended the legislation last year in response to what it said had been an "alarming rise in the people abusing the … system by posing as victims," citing those taking advantage of modern slavery safeguards as "child rapists, people who pose a threat to national security, serious criminals and failed asylum seekers."
Govt accused of demonizing refugees
The statements from Braverman, who is a former attorney general, prompted angry responses from refugee groups. The PCS trade union, which represents civil servants responsible for implementing the government’s asylum policies, said she did not "appear to understand the UK’s international obligations under the Geneva Convention." The union’s general secretary, Mark Serwotka, also accused the government of "demonizing refugees."
In a post on social media, the asylum campaign group Detention Action blamed the government for putting people at risk of exploitation and dangerous Channel crossings by failing to provide safe passage to migrants. Others, such as the human rights lawyer Shoaib Khan, also pointed to the fact that arriving to seek asylum is not illegal, as maintained by the government, and that "safe and legal routes" to the UK do not currently exist.
'Seismic shift' in refugee recognition rate
The founder of the charity Care4Calais, Clare Moseley, said asylum seekers were being subjected to victim-blaming for the purpose of grabbing headlines. Describing the government’s proposals as "barbaric", she said the majority of asylum seekers were genuine refugees who were entitled to international protection.
This is supported by the government’s own figures which show a sharp rise in the success rate of people arriving to claim asylum. Colin Yeo, a barrister and blogger on refugee and immigration law, says there are several possible explanations for this trend, including that asylum seekers have increasingly come from countries where there is real and widespread persecution, such as Afghanistan, Syria and Sudan.
Whatever the reason, the rate of refugee recognition in the UK has gone from only 4% in the mid 1990s to a 76% success rate today.
Despite what he calls a "seismic shift" in the chance of being granted asylum, Yeo believes asylum and refugee law in the UK has changed little over the years. It’s also not yet clear how Braverman will be able to implement her proposals: deporting asylum seekers requires the agreement of third countries, he points out, and even if there are willing states, actual removals remain difficult.