Today, the UK Parliament approved new legislation on nationality, asylum and immigration – the Nationality and Borders Bill. The bill will become law once it receives Royal Assent.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, regrets that the British government’s proposals for a new approach to asylum that undermines established international refugee protection law and practices has been approved.
The UK is a nation that rightly prides itself on its long history of welcoming and protecting refugees. It is disappointing that it would choose a course of action aimed at deterring the seeking of asylum by relegating most refugees to a new, lesser status with few rights and a constant threat of removal.
Furthermore, wide-ranging inadmissibility rules have the potential to deny refugees their right to seek asylum in the UK. Such provisions are potentially at variance with the Refugee Convention.
I am also concerned by the UK’s intention to externalize its obligations to protect refugees and asylum seekers to other countries. Such efforts to shift responsibility run counter to the letter and spirit of the Refugee Convention, to which the UK is a party. These efforts also run counter to the Global Compact on Refugees, which was affirmed by the UN General Assembly in 2018 and calls for more equitably sharing the responsibility for refugee protection.
Currently, most of the world’s refugees are hosted by countries neighbouring crises, with the vast majority hosted by low- and middle-income countries that, despite their limited resources, have gone out of their way to admit and protect refugees. We have also seen such international protection and extraordinary solidarity in the rest of Europe, which is now hosting millions of Ukrainian refugees that have fled the war over the past weeks.
This latest UK Government decision risks dramatically weakening a system that has for decades provided protection and the chance of a new life to so many desperate people.
UNHCR has outlined its concerns and objections to the Nationality and Borders Bill on several occasions and has offered advice on how to implement a more effective and fairer asylum procedure, followed by speedy integration of refugees and return of those not in need of international protection. UNHCR remains committed to engaging with the UK, a long-standing and valued partner, on the identification of practical means to uphold the UK’s international commitments.
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