A report partially endorsed by the UK home secretary, Suella Braverman, calling for a radical crackdown on those seeking asylum has been criticised by a UN body for “factual and legal errors”.
Braverman wrote the foreword to the report by the right-leaning Centre for Policy Studies that says “if necessary” Britain should change human rights laws and withdraw from the European convention on human rights in order to tackle Channel crossings by small boat.
The report, co-authored by Theresa May’s former adviser Nick Timothy, recommended the indefinite detention of all asylum seekers who enter the UK “illegally” and that ministers should legislate to make it impossible to claim asylum in the UK after travelling from a safe country.
But the United Nations high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) questioned the report’s description of “illegal” for people seeking asylum – a term also used by Braverman and the Home Office in official documents.
“There is no such thing as an ‘illegal asylum seeker’. The indefinite detention of those seeking asylum, based solely on their mode of arrival, would punish people in need of help and protection and constitute a clear breach of the United Kingdom’s obligations under the 1951 refugee convention,” a statement from the UNHCR said.
“A blanket ban on claiming asylum in the UK for those arriving on small boats would also breach the refugee convention, if this results in refugees having no means to establish their status and places them at risk of enforced return to their own countries.
“Access to asylum should never be contingent on mode of arrival or nationality. The only way to establish whether people are refugees is through a fair and efficient determination of their claims.”
Braverman has welcomed the report, and in a foreword pledged to do “whatever it takes” to deal with the migrant crisis in the Channel. She said the numbers of people making the perilous crossing were “wholly unacceptable and unsustainable” and that ministers would “comprehensively tackle the small boats problem”.
“We’ve had enough of the persistent abuse of human rights laws to thwart the removal of those with no right to be in the UK. This must end. Saying so is not xenophobic or anti-immigration. It is the reality acknowledged and felt by the vast majority of the British public. To pretend otherwise is to insult them,” she wrote.
Timothy said tackling the issue would require a “completely different approach” from the government, addressing a series of interconnected public problems. “If we are to stop the crossings, we will need to take immediate and bold action,” he said. “It is not something that can be fixed through gradual, incremental change.”
In a new intervention, a former Home Office minister said the government’s tough “rhetoric” on tackling illegal migrant crossings was not working.
The Conservative MP Kit Malthouse told BBC Radio 4’s The Westminster Hour on Sunday night: “I worry slightly that the kind of rhetoric of ‘let’s be tough, let’s just get tougher and tougher’ is just not getting us anywhere and that actually I’d much rather hear smart solutions than tough ones.”
The immigration minister, Robert Jenrick, indicated at the weekend that barring people from countries regarded as safe such as Albania from claiming asylum was among the measures being considered.
He said the government was also looking to tighten the rules on student visas, particularly in relation to bringing family members while studying in the UK.
Braverman has repeatedly blamed asylum seekers who enter the UK “illegally” for the UK’s backlog of cases. In November, she said: “The asylum system has been broken by an unprecedented wave of illegal migration.”
The Home Office did not reply when asked if Braverman stood by her description of asylum seekers as “illegal”. Instead, a spokesperson said: “The global migration crisis is causing an unprecedented strain on our asylum system. We must disrupt the business model of people smugglers and it is right that all options are considered. We welcome policy debate on this complex issue.”