Planned asylum reforms breach UK's human rights obligations, Priti Patel warned

Planned Government reforms of the asylum system would fail to meet the UK’s human rights obligations, a cross-party report by MPs and peers has warned Home Secretary Priti Patel.

People take part in a protest outside Downing Street in Westminster, London in November calling on the Government to scrap the Nationalities and Borders bill and for the rapid expansion of safe and legal routes for refugees to enter Britain and claim asylum.
People take part in a protest outside Downing Street in Westminster, London in November calling on the Government to scrap the Nationalities and Borders bill and for the rapid expansion of safe and legal routes for refugees to enter Britain and claim asylum.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights, which is chaired by Labour MP Harriet Harman, has strongly criticised the Nationality and Borders Bill, which seeks to change how asylum claims are processed and would give powers to the Government to strip people of their British citizenship without warning among other proposals.

The report warns that plans to to create different categories of refugee based on how they came to the UK would be inconsistent with the Refugee Convention and potentially a discriminatory breach of human rights.

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But the Home Office said in response that the Bill complies with legal and international obligations and is designed to "stop abuse of our system".

The committee's report said given the the current “paucity” of available legal routes, the measure would also fail on practical terms as well as legal ones.

The committee also warned that the Bill’s proposal to remove the obligation on the Secretary of State to give ‘notice of deprivation’ of citizenship orders in certain circumstances “undermines the principle of fairness and that this should be removed”.

Deputy Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Joanna Cherry QC MP said: “The UK has a proud history of championing the human rights of refugees. We should continue in this tradition and do all we can to be a place of welcome and support for people who have been persecuted.

“The Bill is at odds with the Refugee Convention and with our human rights obligations and should be amended.

“Rather than coming up with new punitive measures and lambasting the difficulties in rejecting asylum applications, the Government should focus on

dealing with the lengthy backlog of cases.

“This needs to be achieved by better processing and adequate resourcing. Instead we have measures that would harm decision-making, through needlessly penalising the late submission of evidence, and even cause further delays due to the new consideration of whether asylum seekers should have applied to another country first.

“Fundamentally this Bill increases the likelihood that the UK turns its back on people it should be helping.

“This would be wrong and the Government needs to rethink these proposals.”

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The report also calls for Government plans to send asylum seekers to different countries as decisions are awaited on their claims to be scrapped, claiming the move “would see the UK fail to live up to its shared responsibility under the Refugee Convention”.

Another area of criticism was on the issue of proposed age assessments.

The Home Office has called in scientific advisers in a bid to use x-rays and other medical checks on asylum seekers to stop grown men “masquerading as children” on their applications as part of their intended measures in the Bill.

But the committee has warned the plan is “concerning”.

It said: “The accuracy of potential methods, such as x-ray or dental analysis, has been questioned by various medical bodies and the use of such procedures can be considered unethical.

“The committee is particularly concerned that refusal to consent to scientific procedures would be taken into account when determining the credibility of an age-disputed person who may be a child, and recommends removing this from the Bill.”

A Government spokesperson said: “The Nationality and Borders Bill will stop the abuse of our system and give victims who have been exploited the support they need to rebuild their lives.

“It is compliant with our legal and international obligations. It will continue to offer protection to the most vulnerable and step up measures to break the deadly trade of people smuggling."

“The power to deprive British citizenship on ‘conducive to the public good’ grounds is used sparingly, complies with the UN Conventions on Statelessness and always comes with a right to appeal. The Bill does not change this.”

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