Written evidence from Donate4Refugees (NBB0069)
Who I am and why I am submitting evidence: I have been providing grassroots support to asylum seekers and refugees for nearly six years. During this time I have founded and run charity Donate4Refugees as a full-time volunteer. I have further volunteered extensively in the UK (e.g. Refugee Council) and at the front-lines of the refugee crisis in Europe, specifically Greece, France and the Balkans. Whilst back at home my husband and I host refugees and asylum seekers in our home.
I am submitting evidence on the Nationality and Borders Bill because I have met and spoken to hundreds of asylum seekers and refugees, witnessed good and bad immigration practices, seen the short-term and medium-term psychological impacts of different actions. And, in doing so, met some of the most resilient, determined and wonderful people the world has to offer.
1/4 - There is no obligation in the Refugee Convention, either explicit or implicit, to claim asylum in the first safe country reached by a refugee. Rights to claim asylum are basically about whether a person has a well founded fear of being persecuted in his or her country or origin. Whether that person travelled through several countries before claiming asylum has no bearing on fear of persecution at home.
Article 31 of the Convention protects refugees against prosecution for illegal entry to a receiving country:
The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.
This has been recognised by the courts in England and Wales (R v Uxbridge Magistrates Court 1999).
2/4 - The idea that all refugees should seek asylum in the first safe country they reach would not be entertained by the UK were we geographically located where Greece, Italy or Spain is. This puts all burden of refugee movement onto European border nations – how many people do we believe each border nation should host whilst we host none? And with BREXIT taking us out of the EU we are an independent nation without any agreements in place with other European/EU nations on quotas or distribution. If someone comes to the UK we are on our own to assist that person. Further, if an Eritrean arrives in the UK they will have travelled through France, Italy, Libya, Sudan and potentially Ethiopia. Where does “returning” (or push-backs) end? When they are back in their home nation?
3/4 - Whilst safety is the refugees’ immediate need, it does not fulfil all human needs. According to well-recognised and acknowledged Maslows Hierarchy of Needs, safety is at the bottom of the triangle and no one is expected to stop there. It’s a Human Right to have expectations for your life beyond safety in such areas as belonging, esteem, experiences, education and more. Safety alone is not life, it’s survival. It is why people reach safe countries and then continue; often putting their life in danger again. Because they cannot simply exist with no education, no job, no hope of finding a partner, no hope of being a recognised member of society. They need to keep looking for those things and they will move to new countries to find them.
4/4 - Directing vessels out of UK territory waters is immoral at best and illegal at worst. Under the 1982 United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, ships have a clear duty to assist those in distress.
If the objectives as stated by the Home Secretary and Prime Minister are:
- to stop lives being needlessly put at risk making the treacherous irregular crossings of the Channel,
- to stop the very lucrative smuggler rings,
- to reduce the burden on lorry drivers as this continues as an irregular route across the Channel and can reasonably be expected to increase again in winter and post-COVID,
then safe, regular alternatives have to be considered.
Allow people to claim asylum at our frontier controls in France (ref: Treaty of Le Touquet, February 2003). They would claim asylum to UK officials at the border on French soil, complete the first stage of their application and, if their initial application for asylum is accepted by the Home Office in the UK, then the Home Office would transfer them to the UK on regular transport – ferry/Eurostar/Channel Tunnel. They could be given their Asylum Registration Card in France as their permission to travel. Upon safe arrival in the UK they would start the “normal” UK process of dispersal accommodation and asylum support to wait through their asylum decision.
This would severely reduce demand for smugglers and they would leave northern France due to lack of customers. (Supply/Demand)
This would better control our borders as the Home Office would determine who gets to enter so they would be checked on border watch lists etc BEFORE crossing.
This would stop the need for £ms being given to the French Government to fund border security in northern France – walls, barbed wire, CRS officers, drones and more.
This would enable some refugees to arrive in the UK with their own money and be self-sufficient.
No. Arguably they further endanger lives at sea. What reasonable measures would be taken to ensure such “returning” actions would not turn violent? In the event of violence, what reasonable measures can border force, or the refugees, take? Vulnerable people in an overcrowded boat versus protected Border Force in speed boats or using Jet Skis?
Under the 1982 United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, ships have a clear duty to assist those in distress. Article 98 (1) states that “ every State shall require the master of a ship flying its flag, in so far as he can do so without serious damage to the ship, the crew, or the passengers… render assistance to any person found at sea in danger of being lost [and] to proceed with all possible speed to the rescue of persons in distress, if informed of the need of assistance, in so far as such action may reasonably be expected of him. ”.
Article 98(2) goes on to say “ Every coastal State shall promote the establishment, operation and maintenance of an adequate and effective search and rescue service regarding safety on and over the sea and, where circumstances so require, by way of mutual regional arrangements cooperate with neighbouring States for this purpose. ”.
The review made amendments to the SOLAS and SAR Conventions which entered into force in July 2006. To SOLAS Chapter V was added the words: “ This obligation to provide assistance applies regardless of the nationality or status of such persons or the circumstances in which they are found. " The amendments are meant to promote coordination and cooperation between States to assist the ship's master in delivering persons rescued at sea to a place of safety. The amendments added a new regulation on the master's discretion, which states that " the owner, the charterer, the company operating the ship…, or any other person shall not prevent or restrict the master of the ship from taking or executing any decision which, in the master's professional judgement, is necessary for safety of life at sea and protection of the marine environment.".
No, I don’t believe so. I believe this to be particularly inhumane. Further, I cannot see how this proposal could work in practice, or how it achieves any of the aims sought.
Under this proposal a person would still come to the UK by irregular means (presumably still risking their life on a treacherous journey and still paying smugglers to cross borders?). Then on arrival in the UK they would be flown somewhere else; possibly to a country that’s a close neighbour of the one they left and are seeking asylum from? This not only feels dangerous, but cruel.
- Would they be incarcerated in the country? Surely that’s not justifiable, but equally having free movement would be untenable to the host country.
I also feel there is a very real risk of people “knocking on the door” of the UK’s overseas facility (particularly if a close neighbour of their home country) and asking to claim asylum in the UK. Do we then expect to tell them, no, you must now make an irregular journey to the UK and, when you make it, we will fly you back?
Both cruel and nonsensical.
A much better option would be Humanitarian Visas. Allow people to apply for visas to the UK in nations outside the UK. Once accepted they would fly to the UK at their own expense as per existing visa programmes.
Regarding asylum seekers and working rights:
That asylum seekers are not allowed to work for the first six months of their claim. However, after six months they will automatically be sent a National Insurance Number with the right to work in temporary, lower-skilled KEY/FRONTLINE positions as determined by the UK Government and industry/economic need (COVID and BREXIT are teaching us what these roles are) for fair pay.