I frequently find myself differing with readers who find it hard to understand that I can have personal friendships with people with politics very contrary to my own. I do not believe having a different opinion to me makes you a bad person. But there are times when I look at political opponents and consider that they can only be motivated by malice. I honestly believe you have to be a psychopath to wish to inflict the kind of calculated cruelty on hapless individuals who have already suffered much, that was presaged in Priti Patel’s new proposals for dealing with asylum seekers.
Not only is it extremely hard, and often dangerous, for many refugees to get in to the UK at all, it is very difficult indeed for them to have their refugee status accepted once they are here. I have personally both represented asylum seekers before immigration tribunals and given evidence on their behalf. I have seen the outright lies told by the Home Office representatives. In Uzbek cases I was astonished to hear the Home Office’s lawyers putting forward straight denial of political persecution in that country, based on official statements of the Uzbek government. I have seen the same in the case of a Bahraini shia family. I have seen the Home Office assert that gay people would not be in danger if returned, provided they refrained from all sexual activity or expressions of gay identity. I have seen the Home Office suggest that deep scars and burns were self-inflicted to claim torture.
In the event that the poor refugee overcomes this barrage of malignancy and is eventually granted asylum, Patel is now proposing new schemes to extend their misery. The right to re-unite their family will be restricted further; extraordinarily, all grants of asylum will be temporary, liable to revocation and deportation at a moment’s notice. In this way, the asylum seeker will never put down roots, never make a new home here, never become British, never have a family life. Patel is also planning restrictions on the right to work even after being granted asylum and on the right to benefits, potentially making life impossible even for fully genuine refuees.
All of which is utterly contrary to the provisions, letter and spirit of the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees and its Protocol of 1966, confirmed by the UN General Assembly. The above constitutes a direct negation of Articles 17 to 24 inclusive, and that is merely a start.
I do not claim the government’s position is utterly without foundation. Patel founds her views on the notion that these refugees have entered the UK illegally. But the Convention specifically precludes discrimination on that basis :
Refugees Unlawfully in the Country of Refuge
1. The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their
illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory
where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or
are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present
themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their
illegal entry or presence.
Patel, as did Theresa May, argues that refugees do not qualify for the protection of this article as they did not come here “directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened”. That claim however is not as simple as it seems. What does it mean, in this circumstance, to come “directly”. It does not say that it means to come only from an adjacent territory. A single journey may pass through several points. I once drove directly with my brother from London to Warsaw. We slept overnight near Amsterdam and Poznan, but it was still a direct journey. I have seen ministers assert that asylum seekers are obliged to lodge their application at the first place it is safe to do so. But that is not what the Convention on Refugees says. Nor is there any other basis in international law for that assertion.
In any event, the longstanding principle of refoulement is not affected. It predates the Convention but is well captured in it:
Prohibition of Expulsion or Return (“refoulement”)
1. No Contracting State shall expel or return (“refouler”) a refugee in any
manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom
would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership
of a particular social group or political opinion.
2. The benefit of the present provision may not, however, be claimed by
a refugee whom there are reasonable grounds for regarding as a danger to
the security of the country in which he is, or who, having been convicted by
a final judgment of a particularly serious crime, constitutes a danger to the
community of that country.
The end goal of the treatment of refugees is expressed in Article 34. They should be welcomed in to the nation and the community. By contrast, the Tories are embarked on a vicious othering. The political attack on a small and vulnerable group of people, to appeal to the racist vote, simply appals me.
The Contracting States shall as far as possible facilitate the assimilation and
naturalization of refugees. They shall in particular make every effort to expedite
naturalization proceedings and to reduce as far as possible the charges
and costs of such proceedings
Patel even plans to bring back the terrible fast track system, which was declared illegal by the courts. Nadira’s first film, the short Locked In, is a drama based on the true stories of several people subject to the fast track system, including at least one instance where a life was undoubtedly saved by a campaign by this blog’s readers, assisted by Jeremy Corbyn. Subscribers to Amazon Prime can watch for free; I am afraid there is a small charge otherwise. You can find the film here.
We have seen the UK government openly refuse in principle to accept the rule of international law in regard to the Northern Ireland Protocol with the EU, in defying the International Court of Justice and the UN General Assembly over the Chagos Islands, and in paying debt owed to Iran. In the Julian Assange trial, the UK government’s position is openly that the UK/US Extradition Treaty, which specifically excludes political extradition, is not compatible with UK law, even though the UK government signed and ratified the treaty. The UK government claimed on the contrary – and judge Baraitser accepted in her judgement – that the UK law specifically intends to allow political extradition, completely in contrast to the Treaty signed four years later.
We now have the remarkable position where the Tories are claiming it is ultra vires for the Scottish parliament to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, into Scots law, even though the UK has ratified it. That can only make sense if the UK government is arguing that it has no intention of making UK law compatible with this Convention it has signed.
The UK appears more and more shamelessly to proclaim itself as a rogue state. In a sense its position is worse than that of USA exceptionalism. The USA is frequently prepared to defy the international community in refusing to sign up to widely received international treaties – on climate change or the International Criminal Court for example. The UK has a less honest position of signing up to treaties without the slightest intention of abiding by them. The consequences in international relations will accrue, and eventually be dire.
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