The UN has warned Priti Patel that her plans to overhaul the UK’s asylum seeker system by cracking down on the rights of refugees “risk breaching international law”.
Back in March, the home secretary announced plans to give asylum seeker who enter the UK through irregular channels – such as crossing the Channel by boat – fewer rights than those entering via legal routes.
The UNHCR warned this would create a “discriminatory two-tier asylum system” and “risk breaching international legal commitments”.
The agency, which is mandated to help refugees, said the proposals made genuine refugees face a never-ending threat of deportation and “hamper the ability to integrate and push people into precarity and exploitation”.
“Mental health will suffer,” UNHCR representative in the UK Rossella Pagliuchi-Lor said. “This feels like a recipe for social problems.”
Under Patel’s plans, any refugee that arrives in the UK illegally will face deportation to any “safe country” they travelled through, for example, France.
If this is not possible, but their asylum claim is successful and they are recognised as refugees genuinely fleeing war or persecution by the UK authorities, they will have fewer rights than previously.
They will only be given “temporary protection status”, with regular reassessment for deportation from the UK, limited family reunion rights and limited access to benefits.
The plans are expected to be announced in the Queen’s Speech this week.
The UNCHR has said that under international law asylum seekers are allowed to choose where they seek protection where they have legitimate reasons.
“We recognise the need to improve some asylum procedures, but these plans threaten to create a discriminatory two-tier asylum system, undermining the 1951 Refugee Convention and longstanding global cooperation on refugee issues,” Pagliuchi-Lor said.
“It’s not too late for a rethink.
“We’re ready to work with the UK on alternative reforms.”
She added: “It is entirely possible for the UK to protect its borders, and security, while implementing fair, humane and efficient policies towards asylum-seekers in line with the 1951 Convention.”
Responding, the prime minister’s official spokesperson said: “We abide by all laws.
“The home secretary’s proposals are about fairness and ending cruel treatment and things like people smuggling across the Channel.”