In the week leading up to the EU Heads of State summit in Thessaloniki, Greece, the Refugee Council publishes a report “Unsafe Havens, Unworkable Solutions” criticising new UK plans to process all asylum seekers outside the EU. The report is being launched on Wednesday 18 June in the House of Commons(1). The proposals, due to be discussed at the summit, include plans to establish ‘zones of protection’ in regions close to refugee-producing countries. On 16 June the Government announced that it no longer intended to pursue its plans to set up ‘transit’ camps “outside”, or “on the border” with the EU.
However, still on the table are plans by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The UNHCR’s approach to addressing asylum at the EU level advocates detaining those people whose asylum applications are deemed ‘manifestly unfounded’ – that is, people from so-called ‘safe’ countries – in similar camps to those planned by the UK only inside, rather than outside, the EU. The UK Government extended its own list of ‘safe’ countries(2) on 17 June 2003 to include Sri Lanka, taking the total to 24 countries whose nationals are denied the right to appeal a refusal of asylum before being removed from the UK.
The UK proposals are “unprincipled, unworkable, legally problematic and expensive”, says Margaret Lally, acting Chief Executive of the Refugee Council. These critical areas are outlined in the report.
Poorer countries will be expected to shoulder the responsibility for sheltering asylum seekers while their claims are being processed
The camps are likely to be operated as detention centres, meaning people who have not committed any crime – including women and children – will be locked up.
It is unclear how the basic human rights of those in the camps will be protected.
The consequence of the implementation of these proposals will be the creation of “super-Sangattes” – enormous centres which are likely to expand uncontrollably as removals fail to keep up with new arrivals.
As with Sangatte, the camps may well be a target for people smugglers, and thus hinder the government’s attempts to crack down on this activity.
Legal safeguards in place in the UK system will not be present in these camps, and access to legal advice and representation will be severely restricted. This could well result in the wrong decisions being made on people’s claims for asylum.
The camps are unlikely to provide conditions and levels of protection necessary to meet the standards required by the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN Refugee Convention.
The cost of implementing these proposals, which involve moving tens of thousands of people from the UK to have their claims for asylum assessed and then returned to the UK or other EU countries if successful, as well as setting up and running the camps, will be astronomical.
The Refugee Council also raises concerns about alternative proposals being put forward by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Though this approach goes some way to mitigating some of the worst aspects of the government’s plans, it fails to address some of the most problematic areas of the UK proposals, such as detention. It is also contrary to the principle that no country is safe for all people all of the time.
Margaret Lally, acting Chief Executive of the Refugee Council said:
“As outlined in our report, we are appalled that the UK’s proposals are being taken seriously. They pose a clear threat to the global safety net, that ensures every person’s right to seek asylum, and send a dangerous signal to the rest of the world about the UK’s commitment to its international, European and domestic obligations. We have a responsibility as one of the wealthier countries of the world to offer protection and sanctuary to those fleeing persecution. We are also concerned that the EU is now looking at proposals that include the detention of innocent people.
“Problems with the UK asylum system need to be addressed by having more effective decision-making in the UK and more transparent and fair systems across Europe as a whole. We must also address the reasons that force people to flee in the first place. We should not be passing our responsibility over to some of the poorest countries in the world, which are already supporting the majority of the world’s refugees.”
Notes to editors
1. The Refugee Council report, “Unsafe Havens, Unworkable Solutions” is being launched at a reception in the Jubilee Room at the House of Commons on Wednesday 18th June, from 12pm to 1.30pm. Speakers include Neil Gerrard MP; Peer Baneke, European Council on Refugees and Exiles; Margaret Lally, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council and Eve Lester, Amnesty International.
2. The 24 countries labelled ‘safe’ by the Government and from which applicants cannot make appeals on their asylum claims within the UK are: Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania, Bulgaria, Jamaica, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, Serbia + Montenegro (previously the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia), Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, South Africa, Ukraine, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
Read a an executive summary of the report
Read the report in full
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