UK could break international law if Priti Patel’s anti-refugee bill passes

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According to Press Association, at least 592 people were rescued or intercepted as they attempted to travel to Britain on August 12, a record for a single day. Tragically, a 27-year-old Eritrean has died after he and four other people jumped overboard as their boat began to sink. In total, more than 11,000 people successfully crossed the Strait of Pas de Calais on board small boats in 2021.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Priti Patel’s response is to criminalize refugees. Her Nationality and Borders Bill at pass its second reading in parliament. If it were to be adopted in its current form, the UK could violate several international laws and conventions. Ultimately, this could see the Johnson government open to conviction and prosecution in international courts.

Provisions of the bill

When the bill was first introduced, Patel Recount the Communes which:

Anyone arriving illegally will be considered inadmissible and returned to the country from which they arrived or to a safe third country.

According to London Immigration Lawyers, if the bill passes, it will be also means that:

Border force agents would have the power to turn back migrant boats using “reasonable force if necessary”.

Furthermore, according to to the Refugee Council, if passed, the bill would mean that:

Read on …

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Refugees who do not arrive in the UK directly from a country of persecution (for example, those traveling through Europe) will not enter the asylum system when they apply for protection. Instead, their request will be deemed inadmissible while the government tries to expel them from the country. They will also face a four-year prison sentence for “illegal entry”. If deportation is not possible within a certain period of time, then their asylum claim will be heard.

However, even when these refugees are granted asylum, and therefore recognized as in need of protection after fleeing war, persecution and tyranny, it will be under the guise of “temporary protection”. This means that they will have a shorter period of leave to live in the UK, which will need to be renewed regularly. They risk being expelled from the country each time their leave is renewed.

The Council recalls that this approach:

goes against the Refugee Convention, which stipulates that the status of an asylum claim should not depend on the mode of entry into a country.

Indeed, Article 31 of the convention prohibits states from imposing any sanction or punishment on a refugee or asylum-seeker because of the manner in which they arrived.

Criminalize aid

In its explanatory notes to Bill Patel, the Home Office States that anyone helping a refugee enter the UK will be subject to life imprisonment.

However, the Ministry of the Interior deny this applies to some organizations helping people in distress at sea:

If the claim is genuine, this provision of the bill would likely apply to people who are not part of officially recognized rescue organizations.

It is not clear whether this would apply, for example, to Canal rescue – a local organization which provides onshore assistance to refugees arriving ‘unofficially’ in the UK by boat:

Duty of care

Some international laws and conventions require the UK to provide refugees with due diligence. Erik Røsæg, professor at the Scandinavian Institute of Maritime Law, points out that this duty is recognized by:

  • The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
  • The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea.
  • The International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue.

TUnited Nations High Commissioner for Refugees clarifies that asylum seekers and trafficked refugees are not deprived of any right to access protection and assistance.

No more offenses

In March, a Home Office document leaked listed countries to which the UK was considering transporting refugees. These include Papua New Guinea, Ascension Island, Saint Helena, Morocco and Moldova. The Isle of Man, Gibraltar and other islands off the British coast were also under consideration.

However, if such transport and imprisonment took place, the UK would be breaking more international laws and conventions. For example, the Council of Europe (CoE) is responsible for European convention of human rights (ECHR), in which article 5 forbidden arbitrary arrest and detention. (Great Britain helped set up the CoE, which is separate of the EU.)

Lessons from Australia

Australia has notoriously imprisoned refugees and asylum seekers, who attempted to enter Australia by boat, on offshore islands such as Manus (Papua New Guinea) and Nauru. Refugees, including children, have been detained and abused for many years. Suicide attempts have been made, there have been numerous cases of self-harm and lives have been lost.

The escape ‘Nauru Filesreveal events in the island state, including “attempted self-harm, sexual assault, child abuse, hunger strikes, assaults and injuries”. They include over “2,000 incident reports” at the refugee center: “seven reports of child sexual assault, 59 reports of child abuse, 30 self-harm involving children and 159 threats of self-harm involving of children ”.

But the International Penal Court. at declared arbitrary detention refugees and illegal asylum seekers. This judgment, which can be applied to any state, was based on the Rome Statute, to which the UK is a signatory.

A powerful video by Channel News 4 shows the dark side of Australia’s “Operation Sovereign Borders” policy, with which Patel’s proposed measures have similarities:

Let it go !

If Patel’s bill passes, some aspects – such as imprisoning anyone helping a refugee enter the UK – would likely result in conviction and even prosecution. Likewise, if the Johnson government adopts Australian-style “overseas treatment” (ie detention) of refugees.

The bill is another expression of the Conservative government’s “hostile environment”. This is reason enough for it to be completely abandoned.

Featured Image Via Flickr / Global Justice Now

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