Home Secretary Suella Braverman has sparked an outcry by demanding rules protecting refugees which were drawn up in the aftermath of World War Two are torn up.
Ms Braverman was accused of trying to make the world more dangerous for torture survivors in her latest assault on human rights legislation. In a speech to the American Enterprise Institute she will claim that while LGBT people face persecution in many parts of the world, it isn’t sustainable for “simply being gay, or a woman, and fearful of discrimination” to be sufficient to qualify for protection. Her remarks have been branded “divisive and dangerous”.
The Home Secretary, widely tipped to be lining up a leadership run, has set her sights on the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention. She is set to claim that the convention gives the right to “at least 780 million people” to claim asylum in another country.
The document has irked Ms Braverman because it protects refugees from being punished for entering countries without permission, and does not require them to claim asylum in the first safe country they reach. This is to prevent nations that border conflict zones from being over-burdened, and ensure countries share responsibility.
Follow latest updates on her speech below
Speech ‘wouldn’t be out of place on far-right conspiracy website’
Suella Braverman’s speech would not be “out of place on a far-right conspiracy website”, the Green Party has said.
Commenting on the Home Secretary’s speech, Green Party co-leader Adrian Ramsay said: “This is a horrifying speech from a British Home Secretary that would not be out of place on a far-right conspiracy website. It is language straight out of the gutter that should have no place in a fair and compassionate society.
“The Prime Minister should have the decency and moral courage to sack the Home Secretary now.” Mr Ramsay added: “The international refugee convention has proved a cornerstone of protection for people around the world and serves as a reminder to every country of our shared obligations.
“We need a Government that recognises its international responsibilities and sits down with its neighbours to work out how to create the safe, legal routes that enable people to seek asylum without risking their lives.”
UN refugee agency calls on Government to expand safe routes
The UN’s refugee agency has called on the Government to speed up decision making and open up safe routes.
In a statement the UNHCR said: “An appropriate response to the increase in arrivals and to the UK’s current asylum backlog would include strengthening and expediting decision-making procedures.
“This would accelerate the integration of those found to be refugees and facilitate the swift return of those who have no legal basis to stay. UNHCR has presented the UK Government with concrete and actionable proposals in this regard and continues to support constructive, ongoing efforts to clear the current asylum backlog.
“UNHCR also welcomes the UK’s enhanced dialogue with its European neighbours and encourages efforts to enhance regional co-operation to address current challenges. Expanding safe, regular pathways for refugees to travel to the UK would also offer real alternatives to dangerous, irregular journeys.”
Home Secretary accused of ‘direct affront to gender equality’
Failing to uphold the humanitarian duty to give refuge and safety to women in need is a “direct affront to gender equality and human rights”, ActionAid UK has said.
The charity’s chief executive Halima Begum was referring to Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s pre-briefed comments that offering asylum to a person because they are gay, a woman or fearing discrimination in their home country is not sustainable.
Ms Begum said: “We know from our work across the world that for many women and girls, seeking asylum is the only lifeline left when fleeing persecution. Denying this fundamental right is not just a policy choice; it’s a direct affront to gender equality and human rights.
“Upholding the humanitarian duty to provide refuge and safety to women in need is not just an option; it’s an imperative.”
Amnesty International hits out at ‘display of cynicism and xenophobia’
Ms Braverman’s speech was dismissed as “a display of cynicism and xenophobia”.
Her call to reassess the Refugee Convention has been met with widespread anger – with Amnesty International saying this is “just as relevent today as it was when it was created”.
Sacha Deshmukh, the charity’s UK chief executive, said: “The Refugee Convention is a cornerstone of the international legal system and we need to call out this assault on the convention for what it is: a display of cynicism and xenophobia.
“The Refugee Convention is just as relevant today as it was when it was created, and verbal assaults from the Home Secretary don’t alter the harsh realities that cause people from countries such as Sudan, Afghanistan and Iran to flee from conflict and persecution.
“What urgently needs to be addressed on the world stage is the glaring inequality of countries sharing responsibility for refugees a matter in which the UK is severely lagging.
“Instead of making inflammatory speeches decrying the rights of people fleeing persecution and tyranny, Suella Braverman should focus on creating a functioning UK asylum system that tackles the massive backlog her policies have created, so as to be able to meet the limited refugee responsibilities that fall to the UK.”
‘It’s not about leadership race’ claims Braverman
Ms Braverman has denied that her “grandstanding” in the US is part of a leadership ,campaign, as has been widely suggested.
Asked whether she was looking at the top job in the Tory party, she said: “To be hosted here to talk about migration following by meetings with my counterparts is part of my day job, part of my duty as Home Secretary.
“I want to lead this conversation globally, I want to work with like-minded partners to find a solution.”
‘Home Secretary should retract comments and apologise’ call
No doubt as she hoped, Ms Braverman’s remarks have sparked widespread anger.
The SNP’s Justice and Immigration spokesman, Chris Stephens, said: “The Home Secretary’s comments today are deeply ignorant and offensive, proving once again that she is unfit for office. She must retract her comments and issue an urgent apology.
“Our immigration system should welcome with open arms women or LQBT+ people who are fleeing war-torn countries or places where they face persecution – Instead the Tories and the Labour party are too concerned with their obsession of deporting and dehumanising refugees.”
‘Fear of being branded racist’ holding back reform claim
A “fear of being branded a racist or illiberal” has prevented reform of the global asylum system, according to Ms Braverman. The Home Secretary said: “Any attempt to reform the refugee convention will see you smeared as anti-refugee.
“Similar epithets are hurled at anyone who suggests reform of the ECHR (European Convention on Human Rights) or its court in Strasbourg. I reject that notion that a country cannot be expected to respect human rights if it is not signed up to an international human rights organisation.”
‘West cannot fulfil promissory note’, Home Secretary claims
The global asylum system has created a sense of “almost infinite supply” in the West that cannot be met, the Home Secretary has argued. Ms Braverman said being trafficked and paying to be smuggled into a country “are not the same thing”.
“The extent to which the global asylum framework enables the obscuring of these categories creates huge incentives for illegal migration.”
She continued: “The global asylum framework is a promissory note that the West cannot fulfil. We have created a system of almost infinite supply, incentivising millions of people to try their luck, knowing full well that we have no capacity to meet more than a fraction of demand.”
The “ease with which this system can be gamed by those that don’t really need it” means the most vulnerable “lose out”, she said.
Braverman claims thousands who died ‘weren’t genuine asylum seekers’
In an astonishing attack on asylum seekers, Ms Braverman accused those trying to reach the UK of “shopping around”. And she said “not all” of those who died making dangerous crossings were “genuine asylum seekers”.
She said: “According to the UN, 50,000 people have died attempting dangerous and illegal migration since 2014 although the actual figure is almost certainly higher.
“About half of those deaths occured while attempting to cross the Mediterranean. 1,000 people died last year trying to cross from Mexico to the US. Some 150 people have died attempting to cross the Channel by small boat, lorry or other clandestine means.”
And she then went on: “All of those people were no doubt seeking a better life. Some perhaps maybe were genuine refugees. But not all them were. Seeking asylum and seeking better economic prospects isn’t the same thing.”
Warning of ‘more extreme politics’ over asylum
It is “dangerous” to dismiss “as idiots or bigots” people who express concerns about immigration, the Home Secretary has said. Arguing that the public around the world want their governments to control their borders, Suella Braverman said:
“Without public consent, immigration is illegitimate. “Dismissing as idiots or bigots those members of the public who express legitimate concerns is not merely unfair, it is dangerous.”
The senior Cabinet minister said the failure to tackle illegal immigration by the European Union would “undermine the legitimacy of democratic institutions and create the conditions for more extreme politics”.
Home Secretary paints asylum seekers as criminals
Suella Braverman has warned of the UK’s resources being stretched thin due to illegal migration.
The Home Secretary acknowledged the cost of the UK’s asylum system has roughly doubled in the last year and now stands at nearly £4 billion, stressing other places including New York face similar pressures. She told an audience in Washington DC: “Unless countries can prevent or rapidly remove illegal migrants, pressures on the state will compound over time. Accommodation cannot be magicked out of thin air.”
Ms Braverman raised the alarm over public services including schools, saying thousands of extra places will need to be created due to “high birth rates among foreign-born mothers”. She also highlighted “threats to public safety”, noting “heightened levels of criminality connected to some small boat arrivals”.
“People who choose to come across the Channel illegally from another safe country have already showed contempt for our laws,” she said.
‘It’s not a betrayal of my parent’s story’ says Home Secretary
Hitting back at critics, Ms Braverman said: “I am the child of immigrants and it’s not a betrayal to my parents’ story to say that immigration must be controlled.
“There’s an optimal level, but it’s not zero.”
She said that numbers crossing borders has soared in the past 25 years, and added: “It’s been too much, too quick, with very little thought given to integration and the impact of social cohesion.”
Home Secretary says patriotism inspires ‘heroism and kindness’
She admits that political instabilty, climate change and war will drive movement between borders – but goes on to claim that most asylum seekers are economic migrants.
“Far from being an ugly emotion, patriotism stirs people to heroism and kindness,” she said. “The country can’t grow exponentially and still maintain the harmony for everyone to say we’re all in this together.”
Braverman says ‘uncontrolled, illegal migration’ is ‘existential’ threat
The Home Secretary is up.
She starts her speech by warning that “uncontrolled, illegal migration” is an “existential” threat. She said: “It’s a basic rule of politics that political systems which can’t control their borders won’t maintain the constent of their citizens and won’t endure.”
‘Shameful’ attempt to weaken protection criticised
Any attempt to weaken the convention is “shameful”, campaigners have warned.
Sonya Sceats, chief executive at Freedom from Torture, said: “LGBTQI+ people are tortured in many countries for who they are and who they love, and their pain is no less than other survivors we treat in our therapy rooms.
“They deserve precisely the same protection too. For a liberal democracy like Britain to try to weaken protection for this community is shameful.”
Braverman set to accuse asylum seekers of ‘shopping around’
In her speech to the American Enterprise Institute, a centre-right think tank, Mrs Braverman will declare that no migrant crossing the Channel to Britain is in “imminent peril” and accuse some asylum seekers of “shopping around” for their “preferred destination”.
She will say that research indicates that the 1951 UN refugee accord – backed by 149 states – “now confers the notional right to move to another country upon at least 780 million people”, with the threshold for claiming asylum having been reduced over time.
Ms Braverman, according to a pre-briefed extract of her speech, will say: “I think most members of the public would recognise those fleeing a real risk of death, torture, oppression or violence as in need of protection. However, as case law has developed, what we have seen in practice is an interpretive shift away from ‘persecution’ in favour of something more akin to a definition of ‘discrimination’.
“And a similar shift away from a ‘well-founded fear’ toward a ‘credible’ or ‘plausible fear’. 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.”
Home Secretary’s remarks branded ‘divisive and dangerous’
Unsurprisingly the Home Secretary’s comments have been branded “divisive and dangerous”.
Critics warn that Ms Braverman’s demand that being gay or a woman should not be enough to qualify for international refugee protection will have dire consequences.
Gideon Rabinowitz, director of policy and advocacy at Bond, the UK network for NGOs, said: “This kind of rhetoric is incredibly divisive and dangerous. All countries, including the UK, have a moral and legal responsibility to support refugees and asylum-seekers facing conflict, persecution and hostility.
” The UK has a long history of supporting and welcoming refugees which we should be proud of. The government should prioritise clearing the backlog of asylum claims and renewing its efforts to rebuild its reputation as a globally responsible partner.”
What is the United Nations Refugee Convention?
The Home Secretary is set to call for the United Nations Refugee Convention to be torn up and rewritten.
Ms Braverman, who has a long history of blaming courts, international legislation and lawyers for her failure to tackle the asylum crisis, says it is out-of-date. The convention is a key international legal document which defines who can benefit from refugee status and what rights and protection this gives.
It was drafted in the late-1940s and early-1950s in the aftermath of World War Two. In the years since, it has become a foundational document across the world. A refugee is defined as someone who has left their home country due to a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”.
That definition has been the subject of much legal debate, but senior judges have frequently warned against a stricter interpretation.
The Home Secretary is set to complain about the application of Article 31 under the Refugee Convention. She will argue that it is “absurd and unsustainable” that people can travel through “multiple safe countries” before coming to the UK. The convention has been designed to ensure that refugees are not punished for arriving in countries illegally. Individuals are also not required to have come directly from places where they have been placed at risk.
Part of the logic has been to ensure international cooperation on the sharing of refugees. The convention makes this clear, noting that “the grant of asylum may place unduly heavy burdens on certain countries”.