Suella Braverman: Absurd UN asylum rules have created 780m refugees

Suella Braverman, pictured on a visit to the United States, says the current refugee system is 'absurd and unsustainable'
Suella Braverman, pictured on a visit to the United States, says the current refugee system is 'absurd and unsustainable' - Stefan Rousseau/PA

The Home Secretary will warn that as many as 780 million people will be eligible to claim asylum without radical reform of global refugee rules.

On a visit to the United States on Tuesday, Suella Braverman will warn that the threshold for asylum claims under the United Nations Refugee Convention has been lowered in the courts.

She will say “simply being gay, a woman or fearful of discrimination” is now effectively enough to qualify for protection, with refugee rights extended to up to 780 million people.

Mrs Braverman will suggest that while the convention was an “incredible achievement” when signed after the Second World War, it may now need reform because it has created “huge incentives for illegal migration”. She added that the current situation was “absurd and unsustainable”.

Her comments, to be delivered to the American Enterprise Institute, a Right of centre think tank in Washington, come as the Government battles the small boats crisis and US authorities struggle with more than two million migrants crossing their southern border.

Her remarks will put her on a collision course with the UN High Commission for Refugees, which supported the legal challenge against government plans to deport Channel migrants to Rwanda. The flights remain grounded until the Supreme Court determines this autumn if they are legal.

Mrs Braverman has previously signalled her desire to quit the European Convention on Human Rights for the way “politicised” and “interventionist” judges have trampled on “the territory of national sovereignty”. However, until now, she has not publicly and directly taken aim at the Refugee Convention.

She is expected to say: “Seeking asylum and seeking better economic prospects are not the same thing.

“Seeking refuge in the first safe country you reach or shopping around for your preferred destination are not the same thing.

“The extent to which the global asylum framework enables the merging of these categories creates huge incentives for illegal migration. This legal framework is rooted in the 1951 UN Refugee Convention.”

Mrs Braverman with Karen Pierce, the British ambassador to the US, during her visit to Washington
Mrs Braverman with Karen Pierce, the British ambassador to the US, during her visit to Washington - Stefan Rousseau/PA

The convention, approved at a special UN conference in July 1951, was designed to help resettle people fleeing persecution after the Second World War and the Holocaust. It was initially focused on Europe but has expanded to 146 countries.

But Mrs Braverman will argue that, more than 70 years on, “we now live in a completely different time”.

She will say: “When the Refugee Convention was signed, it conferred protection on some two million people in Europe.

According to analysis by Nick Timothy and Karl Williams for the Centre for Policy Studies, it now confers the notional right to move to another country upon at least 780 million people.

“It is therefore incumbent upon politicians and thought leaders to ask whether the Refugee Convention, and the way it has come to be interpreted through our courts, is fit for our modern age or whether it is in need of reform.”

The figure is an estimate of anyone who could face a “well-founded fear of being persecuted” for reasons including race, religion and nationality and so flee their home country, added to the 89 million forcibly displaced people and 40 million in modern slavery.

Mrs Braverman will say the tests for how refugees are defined have changed from “well-founded fear of persecution” to “credible” or “plausible” fear of “something more akin to a definition of discrimination”.

She will add: “The practical consequence of which has been to expand the number of those who may qualify for asylum, and to lower the threshold for doing so.

“Let me be clear, there are vast swathes of the world where it is extremely difficult to be gay, or to be a woman.

“Where individuals are being persecuted, it is right that we offer sanctuary. But we will not be able to sustain an asylum system if in effect, simply being gay, or a woman, and fearful of discrimination in your country of origin, is sufficient to qualify for protection.”

She will say that Article 31 of the Refugee Convention was intended to apply only to migrants who came “directly” to a country.

The UK and US had interpreted this to mean that people should claim asylum in the first safe country they reached.

“But NGOs and others, including the UN Refugee Agency, contest this. The status quo, where people are able to travel through multiple safe countries, and even reside in safe countries for years, while they pick their preferred destination to claim asylum, is absurd and unsustainable,” she will say.

“Nobody entering the UK by boat from France is fleeing imminent peril. None of them have ‘good cause’ for illegal entry. The vast majority have passed through multiple safe countries.

“In this sense, there is an argument that they should cease to be treated as refugees when considering the legitimacy of their onward movement.”

‘Broken asylum system’

This contention is central to the Government’s Illegal Migration Act, which gives ministers powers to detain migrants who arrive in the UK illegally and deport them to a safe third country, such as Rwanda or their home nation.

Her speech is part of a three-day visit to meet her US counterparts to discuss strategies to tackle illegal migration and organised immigration crime.

Responding ahead of the speech, Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said the Government had made it harder to tackle the migrant crisis alongside other countries by undermining international agreements.

She said: “Most people in Britain want to see strong border security and a properly managed asylum and resettlement system so that the UK does its bit to help vulnerable refugees who have fled persecution and conflict – like the Afghan interpreters who helped our Armed Forces.

“Under the Tories, we have the worst of all worlds – a broken asylum system that is neither firm nor fair.”

Meanwhile, about 40 asylum seekers mounted a protest against conditions at RAF Wethersfield in Essex, the converted migrant camp where they are being held.

They were complaining about the quality of food, having to sleep up to three to a room, a lack of dental care, and the isolation of the base.

More than 100 migrants have been moved on to the camp after reaching the UK on small boats.