Robert Jenrick has been called out by Krishnan Guru-Murthy for falsely claiming the United Nations refugee convention dictates that migrants have to seek sanctuary in the first ‘safe’ country they arrive in.
The immigration minister quickly backpedaled and said it was a “key principle” the government supported as the journalist refused to let the politician off the hook.
It came as Jenrick was grilled over the Archbishop of Canterbury’s stinging criticism of the government’s crackdown on asylum seekers under the illegal migration bill.
Jenrick was pulled up on Channel 4 News as he said that those crossing the Channel from France were “essentially asylum shoppers”.
Here’s the exchange (plus clip below):
Robert Jenrick: “If somebody originated from a place of danger, like Afghanistan, the vast majority of those people coming across on small boats are coming from France, and they are choosing to come to the UK for whatever reason.”
Krishnan Guru-Murthy: “As is their right.”
RJ: “They are essentially asylum shoppers.”
KGM: “It is their right to apply for asylum anywhere, they are asylum seekers, not asylum shoppers.”
RJ: “The convention says people should seek asylum in the first safe country.”
KGM: “No, it doesn’t. Where does it say that?”
RJ: “We are prioritising people in a place of danger rather than people who are in a place of safety like France.”
KGM: “That is not true. That is not true. The refugee convention does not say that you must seek sanctuary in the first safe country.”
RJ: “The refugee convention does encourage people to do that.”
KGM: “It does not say you must seek sanctuary in the first safe country, which you just said. That is not true.”
RJ: “That’s a key principle that we support as a government.”
KGM: “OK, but it’s not in the refugee convention.”
RJ: “We don’t think it’s right that if you’re in a safe country like France, that you should be coming to the UK. That’s creating a fundamental unfairness.”
KGM: “That’s the government’s position, it’s not in the refugee convention.”
"They're not asylum shoppers they're asylum seekers... That's not true."@krishgm challenges immigration minister Robert Jenrick after he claims "asylum shoppers" should seek sanctuary in the first safe country they reach under the "Refugee Convention". pic.twitter.com/NsDz9DqiO1
— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) May 10, 2023
The claim has been repeatedly rejected.
Amnesty International has said: “There is no rule requiring refugees to claim in the first safe country in which they arrive.”
The Full Fact site has also said: “The UN refugee convention does not make this requirement of refugees, and UK case law supports this interpretation. Refugees can legitimately make a claim for asylum in the UK after passing through other ‘safe’ countries.”
And a House of Commons briefing paper from February this year states: “The UK government’s position is that refugees should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach. The UN Refugee Agency says this is not required by the refugee convention or international law.”
The former minister quizzed Zoe Gardner over the number of refugees seeking to settle in Britain after fleeing their homeland.
“If they really are refugees, why don’t they have to stay in the first safe country they reach?”
“Why don’t they just claim asylum in France?”
Here is my answer, once & for all. To Jonathan Gullis, and to everyone else who ever wondered.#RefugeesWelcomepic.twitter.com/JZuTi4hkqG
— Zoe Gardner (@ZoeJardiniere) February 22, 2023
But he was told the international asylum system would “crumble” if countries refused to accept immigrants and expected other countries to take them instead.
The pair clashed in 2021 as Gardner appeared before parliament’s nationality and borders bill committee.
In the clip, Gullis, the MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, asks Gardner: “If these people out in Calais are legitimate refugees, why are they not claiming asylum in France, Italy, Spain or Greece? Why do they need to come to the United Kingdom?
Gardner replies: “As I’m sure you’ll be aware ... the vast majority of people who seek asylum worldwide, firstly, 86% of refugees and displaced people worldwide, remain in the country neighbouring the one they have fled.
“So, 86% of people remain in developing countries.
“France received three times as many asylum applications as we did last year. People stop as soon as they feel safe.
″But the people who are making their way to England and who specifically wish to the UK, do so because they have ties to this country either because they have served with out military in the case of people from Afghanistan, or have family members, or speak the language because of our colonial history and have other ties of kinship and history here.
″So there are people who have legitimate ties to the UK and there is no good reason why they should particularly have their claims assessed in France if they do not wish to.
“It doesn’t really work for us to say to the French, ‘given that we’re geographically located slightly to the west of you, none of these refugees are our responsibility and they’re all on you’ because France can say the same thing and then Italy can say the same thing, and then the entire international refugee protection system will crumble.”