The Observer’s take on UK asylum-seekers policy | Editorial Observer

Sometimes a tragic picture or story seems to want to change the course of history for the better. The haunting photograph of three-year-old Alan Kurdi stranded on a beach in Turkey shocked Europe in September 2015. He was a Syrian toddler who perished alongside his mother and brother as he attempted to make the dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean. For at least a few weeks, it looked like public horror at his death could push the EU to take a more humanitarian approach to asylum. But in recent years it has become more, not less, a hard line, making unsavory deals with authoritarian regimes like Turkey and failed states like Libya to keep refugees out, regardless of human rights violations. human rights that take place in their detention centers.

The tragedy has spread to our own shores as more and more desperate people attempt to cross the English Channel, the world’s busiest sea route, in little more than rubber dinghies. Twenty-seven people drowned last Thursday, including a pregnant woman and three children. Their stories, like that of Maryam Nuri Mohamed Amin, a 24-year-old Kurdish woman fleeing Iraq to join her fiance in the UK, are just beginning to emerge. But there is little hope that they will bring about a change in the policy response.

What is happening in the English Channel is a humanitarian crisis, as people mainly from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan – the vast majority of whom will qualify for refuge – attempt to reach the Kingdom. United. What it is not, however, is some sort of crisis for the UK asylum system, with the number of people seeking asylum in the UK significantly lower than at the peak of the early 2000s and Much lower than in Germany or France. Nor is it a new phenomenon: people have always fled conflict and torture around the world, sometimes driven by desperation to take appalling risks, as Tim Adams reports from France today.

What is new is the growing willingness of political leaders around the world, especially in the UK, but also in countries like Australia, to ignore their obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention. . What motivates the UK response above all is not to reduce the loss of life in the Channel, but to reduce the number of people seeking asylum after arriving in the UK.

The best way to reduce the death toll as people fleeing conflict attempt to cross the Channel – or, indeed, the Mediterranean – is to open a safe passage to Europe, thereby reducing the demand for the operations of human trafficking in criminal gangs. It may be hard to believe for those with a Europe-centered vision, but the majority of refugees do not aspire to come to Europe – they want to stay close to home in the hope that one day they will be able to return. Almost nine in ten refugees worldwide live in low-income countries neighboring their countries of origin. Allowing safe passage and a more generous system by which people can apply for resettlement would help erode the smugglers’ business model.

But this conflicts with the government’s apparent desire to keep the number of people granted asylum in the UK at an unachievable level. Just over 13,000 refugees were granted protection last year: this equates to only 20 people by parliamentary constituency. The UK could easily offer protection to more. But, as the Observer explained last week, because it doesn’t match the political image they want to cultivate, Boris Johnson and Priti Patel instead focus on deterring people from crossing by making the UK even more hostile to applicants asylum and restructuring our asylum system in a way that breaks both the spirit and the letter of the 1951 convention.

The UK is already a very hostile place for people seeking refuge: they are not allowed to work, are often housed in appalling conditions and are forced to subsist on less than £ 5.50 a day. The government has sought to make the task even more difficult by opening up a two-tier system whereby the 1951 convention rights of asylum seekers arriving in the UK through means other than official resettlement programs – an action fully legal – would be further eroded. This totally goes against one of the key principles of the convention, which is that people with legitimate asylum claims should be heard fairly, regardless of how they arrived in a country. The government’s other “deterrence” proposals currently before Parliament include other measures that violate international refugee and maritime law, including the dangerous forcible return of boats to France and the treatment of asylum seekers in France. ‘foreigner.

Johnson’s chosen fight with French President Emmanuel Macron perfectly sums up the dire state of the government’s response. France was wrong to exclude the UK from a key meeting on the Channel crisis. Yet by provoking Macron into this, by posting an inflammatory letter on social media that made a series of unreasonable demands on France, Johnson showed his true colors. He is a man who favors the headlines in the sympathetic press rather than trying to work with our neighbors to avoid another human tragedy.

Rich nations have an ethical obligation to people fleeing conflicts and disasters that they collectively fail to meet. It is also in their personal interest: to simply protect themselves, to close the borders and to look the other way would be to dangerously undermine global security. Britain was one of the founding signatories of the 1951 Refugee Convention, which codified international solidarity and cooperation without which a humanitarian approach to refugees is simply not possible. To our national shame, today it is one of the countries leading the charge to tear it apart.

About Julius Southworth

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