British policies on migration, rights issues under fire at U.N. rights forum

By Emma Farge

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Kingdom faced a barrage of questions and criticism of its migration and poverty policies in a United Nations review of its human rights record on Thursday amid allegations that it is backsliding on freedoms.

While criticism is part of the normal U.N. process that takes place every few years, analysts said the level of scrutiny of one of the world's most prominent democracies from such a broad range of countries, including allies, was notable.

Among the issues raised at the U.N. meeting in Geneva was London's plan to send asylum seekers who arrive in Britain to Rwanda to counter an influx of refugees and migrants on its southern coast.

Luxembourg's ambassador Marc Bichler called the agreement a violation of international law that "risks causing irreparable harm to those seeking international protection".

Close ally the United States also questioned the policy in written remarks, asking how it could ensure the individuals sent to other countries were protected.

"The fact that so many states made recommendations addressing the UK's backsliding on human rights at home and abroad, its treatment of people seeking asylum, and its undermining of international standards shows their grave concern," Emilie McDonnell from Human Rights Watch told Reuters.

"We can only hope this global spotlight leads the UK to change course."

Mike Freer, a junior minister in Britain's Justice Department, said that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's government was "absolutely committed" to protecting and respecting human rights at home and abroad.

Freer also said Rwanda was a safe and secure country with a track record of supporting refugees.

As yet, no deportations have taken place after a last-minute injunction from the European Court of Human Rights stopped the first planned flight in June. The policy is also facing a judicial review at the High Court in London.

All 193 U.N. member states are subject to scrutiny as part of the review process established in 2008. A three-person U.N. "troika" will submit recommendations to the British government next week.

(Additional reporting by Michael Holden in London, Editing by Angus MacSwan)