Top European human rights body slates UK’s asylum bill
Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović urges MPs and peers to uphold human rights law.
LONDON — British lawmakers are being urged not to support a major shake-up of the country’s asylum laws because the plan could encourage other states to start "evading and abdicating" their own human rights obligations.
The Council of Europe — a non-EU body tasked with monitoring and upholding human rights on the Continent and which counts Britain among its founding members — launched a blast at the Illegal Migration Bill on the day it returns to the House of Commons for fresh scrutiny.
In a letter addressed to the speakers and members of both the Commons and the House of Lords, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović said ensuring access to asylum "is a key component of the system of human rights protection in Europe" and stressed the need for peoples’ claims to be heard "regardless" of how they arrive in the country.
"By effectively preventing people arriving irregularly from having their asylum claims assessed, the Bill would strip away one of the essential building blocks of the protection system," Mijatović wrote. The bill, she added, creates a "clear and direct tension with well-established and fundamental human rights standards."
The British government has argued that the bill — unveiled last month — is needed to sharply reduce the numbers of people using small boats to make the dangerous crossing from French to British shores.
The proposals aim to radically cut the avenues by which people seeking asylum in the U.K. can challenge their removal, and place a new legal duty on the home secretary to “remove illegal entrants." Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made stopping boat crossings one of his five top political priorities.
But in her letter urging U.K. lawmakers to uphold human rights law, Mijatović argues that the U.K.’s plan provides "an incentive to other states, in Europe and beyond, to follow the U.K.’s lead in evading and abdicating its responsibilities to people in need of protection."
Her comments mark the latest international condemnation of the bill, which has also been attacked by the the United Nations’ refugee agency and the European Union.
The bill heads for committee stage scrutiny Monday in the House of Commons, with MPs from both wings of the Conservative Party pressing for changes. Some are urging the government to do more to ensure the European Court of Human Rights cannot challenge the removal of asylum seekers, while others want ministers to make good on promises to set up more safe and legal routes for those fleeing persecution.