UN rights chief: UK draft law on asylum seekers would violate international law

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk Wednesday criticised a British draft law that would require the deportation of anyone arriving in the UK by small boats. Türk said he was “deeply concerned” at the legislation and argued that it would violate international law.

The new plans would ban asylum seekers who arrive illegally from claiming UK settlement or UK citizenship and from re-entering the UK if they are removed. Under the plan, asylum seekers would likely be deported back to their home countries or to a “safe third country,” such as Rwanda. Türk warned that such a ban “would be at variance with the UK’s obligations under international human rights and refugee law.” Türk suggested that the legislation raised a number of rights concerns by returning asylum seekers to countries where they may face torture, cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.

The bill may also violate the right of each asylum seeker to individual assessment as well as international bans on arbitrary detention. “All people compelled to leave their country of origin to seek safety and dignity abroad are entitled to the full respect of their human rights, regardless of their migration status or mode of arrival,” Türk stated. Echoing Türk’s concerns, the UN Refugee Agency described the bill as “extinguishing the right to seek refugee protection” and “amount[ing] to an asylum ban.”

UK Home Secretary Suella Braveman has been unable to make a “definitive” statement as to whether the legislation is compatible with the Human Rights Act 1998, which requires ministers to state whether the provisions of a bill are in keeping with the European Convention on Human Rights. According to UK government figures, some 45,000 people crossed the English Channel on small boats in 2022, up 60 percent from the previous year.

It is expected that the bill will face a legal challenge.