Home Secretary delivers chilling conference speech on asylum - Refugee Council
October 6, 2015

Home Secretary delivers chilling conference speech on asylum

Today the Home Secretary Theresa May delivered a worrying attack on Britain’s asylum system and set out plans to make the system even tougher.

During her speech at the Conservative Party conference, the Home Secretary declared her intention to oversee a drop in the number of asylum claims Britain receives, ignoring the fact that the world is in the grip of one of the worst refugee crises ever.

Worryingly, the Home Secretary also laid out plans to attempt to tamper with the international legal definition of asylum and refugee status.

The definition of who is a refugee and the right to claim asylum are enshrined in international law – the Refugee Convention – which was in part drafted by British lawyers following WWII. It means that refugees fleeing conflict and persecution are able to find safety in another country.

In order to make a claim for asylum in Britain, a refugee has to be physically present in the country. As Britain is extremely hard to reach when people are fleeing, the numbers of people seeking asylum here remain low. Britain currently receives proportionally below the EU average in terms of asylum applications.

During her blistering attack on the principle of asylum, the Home Secretary portrayed refugees who claim asylum in Britain as less deserving of protection than refugees who remain in camps. She simultaneously invoked Britain’s proud tradition of protecting refugees throughout the ages, from Huguenot Protestant refugees from France to Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis.

However, the Home Secretary seemingly failed to recognise that these people didn’t stay in their countries waiting for Britain to come and rescue them; they came to Britain and we rightly offered protection to those who needed it.

Theresa May also pledged to work with other countries in order to clamp down on asylum claims from nationals from ‘safe countries’ as the cost of processing their applications was too high.

This would set a dangerous precedent. Every asylum claim must be judged on its own merits. No one is in a position to pre-judge the validity of someone’s asylum claim before they’ve had the chance to make it.

We’ve repeatedly suggested ways the Government can make the asylum system more cost effective. Abandoning the prolific and expensive use of arbitrary detention would save the tax payer hundreds of millions of pounds.

Refugee Council Chief Executive Maurice Wren said in response:

“The Home Secretary’s clear intention to close Britain’s border to refugees fleeing for their lives is thoroughly chilling, as is her bitter attack on the fundamental principle enshrined in international law that people fleeing persecution should be able to claim asylum in Britain.

“The Home Secretary’s idea that the few refugees who reach Britain’s shores under their own steam are not in need of protection is fundamentally flawed. Becoming a refugee is not solely the privilege of the poor or infirm.

“Everyone would like to see the number of asylum claims in Britain go down: but only because that would mean the world had become a safer, more peaceful place. As it stands, the Home Secretary’s ambitions are simply out of step with reality: the world is facing one of the worst refugee crises we’ve ever seen.

“The global system of refugee protection is based on the principle that everyone has the right to claim asylum and to have that claim examined properly.

“Instead of seeking to close the door on refugees reaching Britain by creating the idea they are somehow unworthy of our help, the Home Secretary should focus her efforts on reforming Britain’s asylum system so it treats people with the dignity and respect they so desperately need.”

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