Priti Patel has been warned by the UN that her plans to overhaul the immigration laws to crack down on the rights of some asylum seekers “risk breaching international law”.
The home secretary in March announced plans that would mean asylum seekers who enter the UK through irregular means, such as crossing the Channel on a boat, will have fewer rights than those who arrive through safe and legal routes.
The UNHCR warned this would create a “discriminatory two-tier asylum system” and “risk breaching international legal commitments”.
The agency also warned that plans to make genuine refugees face an ongoing threat of deportation will “hamper the ability to integrate and push people into precarity and exploitation”.
“Mental health will suffer.” UNHCR representative in the UK Rossella Pagliuchi-Lor said.
“This feels like a recipe for social problems.”
The highly controversial proposals will mean that those who arrive in the UK illegally will first face deportation to any “safe country” they have travelled through, for example France.
If this is not possible, but their asylum claim is successful and they are recognised as refugees genuinely fleeing war or persecution by the UK authorities, they will have fewer rights than previously.
These refugees who have arrived through irregular routes will only be given “temporary protection status”, with regular reassessment for deportation from the UK, limited family reunion rights and limited access to benefits.
The plans will be the key plank in new immigration laws expected to be announced in the Queen’s Speech this week.
These plans threaten to create a discriminatory two-tier asylum system, undermining the 1951 Refugee Convention
But the UNHCR insisted that the right to seek asylum is universal and does not depend on how someone arrives in a country.
International law also allows asylum seekers to choose where they seek protection where they have legitimate reasons, including family and other links.
Meanwhile, deporting all refugees to the first safe country they entered would cause the entire asylum system to “collapse” as countries on the borders of conflict areas would carry all the burden.
Patel is also not responding to a “mass influx” of asylum seekers, with UK claims declining overall despite a rise in boat arrivals in recent years.
“We recognise the need to improve some asylum procedures, but these plans threaten to create a discriminatory two-tier asylum system, undermining the 1951 Refugee Convention and longstanding global cooperation on refugee issues,” Pagliuchi-Lor said.
“It’s not too late for a rethink.
“We’re ready to work with the UK on alternative reforms.”
She added: “It is entirely possible for the UK to protect its borders, and security, while implementing fair, humane and efficient policies towards asylum-seekers in line with the 1951 Convention.”
Responding, the prime minister’s official spokesperson said: “We abide by all laws.
“The home secretary’s proposals are about fairness and ending cruel treatment and things like people smuggling across the Channel.”