Written evidence from Médecins Sans Frontières (NBB0061)


Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is an international, independent medical humanitarian organisation. We provide medical and humanitarian assistance to people affected by conflict, violence, epidemics, disasters, or excluded from healthcare. At times, MSF may speak out publicly to bring a forgotten crisis into view, or to denounce abuses, or challenge the diversion of assistance, or to call out policies that cause harm, restrict access to medical care or essential medicines.  Our teams are made up of tens of thousands of health professionals, logistic and administrative staff - bound together by our Charter.  Our actions are guided by medical ethics and the principles of impartiality, independence and neutrality. We are a non-profit, self-governed, member-based organisation.


MSF’s teams have been responding to humanitarian needs and severe physical and mental damage inflicted on people seeking safety caused by harsh migration policies focused on deterrence, externalisation and containment. We have extensive experience of providing medical care to asylum seekers, refugees and other migrants in Greece, Italy, France, Belgium, the Balkans, Nauru Island, Libya and on our Search and Rescue (SAR) missions in the Central Mediterranean.

Based on MSF’s experience, the organisation is inclined to address some of the questions raised by the Joint Committee on Human Rights:

     Does introducing a two-tier system of rights for refugees meet the UK’s obligations under refugee law and human rights law?

     Do proposed new powers for UK Border Force to direct vessels out of UK territorial waters, and for the Home Office to return people to “safe countries” risk undermining refugees’ human rights as well as the principle that refugees should not be expelled or returned to the frontiers of territories in any manner whatsoever where they risk persecution (the principle of non-refoulement)?

     Do the changes proposed by the Bill adequately protect the right to life for those at sea?

     Do the proposed powers to remove asylum seekers to “safe countries” while their asylum claims are pending, with a view to supporting the processing of asylum claims outside the UK in future, comply with the UK’s obligations under refugee law and human rights law?


  1. Two-tier system of rights for refugees:



  1. Powers to remove asylum seekers to ’safe countries



  1. Processing claims outside the UK 



  1. Detention and Creation of Accommodation Centres









[1] https://www.unhcr.org/uk/resettlement.html

[2] UNCHR Observations on the New Plan for Immigration policy statement of the Government of the United Kingdom, May 2021;

UNHCR Observations on the Nationality and Borders Bill, Bill 141, 2021-22, September 2021; https://www.unhcr.org/uk/news/press/2021/1/601121344/unhcr-warns-asylum-under-attack-europes-borders-urges-end-pushbacks-violence.html

[3] https://www.unhcr.org/4d9486929.pdf

[4] https://www.msf.org/rejected-and-traumatised-unaccompanied-minors-france

[5] https://www.msf.org/beaten-cold-sick-and-stranded-migrants-bosnia

[6] https://msf.lu/en/news/testimonies/the-game-comes-at-a-high-price

[7] https://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2020-03-02.HL2069.h&s=turkey+migration#gHL2069.r0

[8] Between April – August 2021 MSF’s project in Samos accepted 84 new patients, of which 54 had thoughts of suicide and 12 were at active risk of suicide. MSF Briefing Note: Greece Migration Update, ‘Opening of new prison-like centre on Samos’, September 2021. https://www.msf.org/we-can-only-help-refugees-survive-new-camp-greek-island

[9] https://www.msf.org/indefinite-despair-report-and-executive-summary-nauru


Resignation Syndrome is a rare psychiatric condition where patients enter a comatose state and require medical care to keep them alive.

[11] https://www.msf.org/indefinite-despair-report-and-executive-summary-nauru

[12] https://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/federal-budget-what-it-means-for-refugees-and-people-seeking-humanitarian-protection/

[13] All figures are in Australian dollars

[14] https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2021/may/12/australia-will-spend-almost-34m-for-each-person-in-offshore-detention-budget-shows

[15] https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/G1709891.pdf

[16] https://www.kaldorcentre.unsw.edu.au/publication/offshore-processing-australia%E2%80%99s-responsibility-asylum-seekers-and-refugees-nauru-and

[17] https://www.msf.org/constructing-crisis-europe-border-migration-report