UK legislation on illegal migrants breach of international law: UNHCR spokesman

UK legislation on illegal migrants breach of international law: UNHCR spokesman

Sending refugees to Rwanda is not solution, right to asylum is universal, says Matthew Saltmarsh

By Rabia Ali

ISTANBUL (AA) — The new UK bill against illegal migrants violates the international treaty for refugees and therefore is a violation of international law, said an official of the UN's refugee agency.

"The proposed law does breach the international convention, and hence it is in breach of international law and of international humanitarian cooperation indeed," Matthew Saltmarsh, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told Anadolu in an exclusive interview.

According to the UNHCR, the UK currently hosts around 230,000 refugees. The number of asylum seekers has also been rising, and last year, there were nearly 75,000 asylum claims in the country.

If the legislation is passed, there will be a ban on asylum seekers in the UK and the country would be closing down its asylum system, said Saltmarsh.

“The right to asylum is universal, and the right to asylum is fundamental. That is agreed internationally and in international law, and that is the fundamental tenet on which the Refugee Convention rests.”

- Refugee situation in UK not unusual

According to Saltmarsh, it is a concern that people are taking dangerous routes and putting their lives in danger to get to the UK, but it is not a situation unique to the country.

While the number of refugees is increasing in the UK, the situation is not expectational, he said, stressing that many countries have been hosting refugees for years, and in large numbers.

“There are large numbers of asylum seekers and refugees in many other countries,” he said.

“Take Türkiye for example. Türkiye for many years has hosted millions of Syrian refugees and continues to do so, but also other countries in Europe (such as) France and Germany. (There are) countries now in Eastern Europe which host many Ukrainian refugees.”

- Detention of refugees problematic

Regarding the expected detention of people coming to the UK illegally, Saltmarsh said there are issues regarding the conditions under which they will be kept.

“Detention of asylum seekers and refugees is extremely problematic. There have been many issues with it in terms of the conditions under which people are detained, in terms of the impact that it has on people’s mental health,” he said.

The cost of detaining refugees is expensive, he noted and wondered where these people are going to be housed.

- Sending refugees to Rwanda not solution

In response to the UK's new bill, which involves initially sending refugees coming to the UK to Rwanda, Saltmarsh said the agreement on Rwanda is still being challenged in the courts, so it’s unclear if people would be able to go to Rwanda.

“Sending asylum seekers to Rwanda we don’t think is the solution. Rwanda is itself a less wealthy country that has a number of its own refugees that it hosts already. But also we don’t think that the asylum system in the country is robust enough to be able to process those claims and to safely accommodate the asylum seekers,” he said.

- Few safer routes for migrants

For people seeking asylum in the UK, there are very few safe and legal channels, with long and complicated procedures and schemes.

“Sadly, there are very few safe and legal routes to the UK. The UK has in the past been a generous country for resettlement to refugees. At the moment, it has a very limited number of places for resettlement,” said Saltmarsh.

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