Today, on World Refugee Day, 12 leading refugee and human rights organisations write to the Prime Minister Tony Blair MP to highlight their grave concerns about the UK’s asylum proposals ahead of the EU Heads’ of States Summit in Thessaloniki, Greece on 20-21 June 2003.
Margaret Lally, acting Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, writing to the Prime Minister on behalf of all the organisations, says,
“The European Council Summit falls on World Refugee Day and we urge the Prime Minister not to be seen to be letting go of the global safety net that protects the world’s refugees.
“These proposals will be seen as shifting responsibility for asylum seekers and refugees to some of the poorest countries in the world and sends a dangerous signal about the UK’s commitment to human rights.”
The joint letter raises three main areas of serious concern about the UK’s proposals to establish ‘Zones of Protection’ in regions close to refugee-producing countries, and the plans to return and determine people’s asylum claims outside the EU.
The three fundamental questions the organisations ask of the proposals are:
1. Are the proposals lawful?
The organisations question the legitimacy of the proposals, and whether there will be sufficient safeguards in place to ensure the individual right to seek and enjoy asylum, as enshrined within international law, is maintained.
2. Are the proposals necessary and proportionate to the aim?
The proposals seem to ignore that the number of asylum applications to the EU have halved between 1992 and 2001, and risen only slightly since then. A more proportionate approach would be to invest in high quality initial asylum decisions across Europe, which would ensure those in need of protection can quickly begin rebuilding their lives.
3. Are the proposals workable?
The safety of refugee camps, and ‘safe havens’ have frequently been called into question. Refugees in camps in Africa have been subjected to armed attack, sexual violence and forced recruitment into militia groups.
The proposals appear to involve long-term detention of people who have committed no crime, which is both resource-intensive and most probably unlawful.
Signatories to the joint letter to the Prime Minister are:
Kate Allen, Director, Amnesty International UK
Peer Baneke, General Secretary, European Council for Refugees and Exiles
Keith Best, Chief Executive, Immigration Advisory Service
Sandy Buchan, Chief Executive, Refugee Action
Margaret Lally, acting Chief Executive, Refugee Council
Elizabeth Little, Executive Director, Refugee Arrivals Project
Alyoscia D’Onofrio, Director, IRC UK
Habib Rahman, Chief Executive, JCWI
Rick Scannell, Chair, Immigration Law Practitioners Association
Malcolm Smart, Director, Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture
Barry Stoyle, Chief Executive, Refugee Legal Centre
John Wadham, Director, Liberty