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‘Heightening Tensions from the Far-Right’: Braverman’s Dangerous Asylum Approach

Campaigners and experts warn that the Home Secretary’s rhetoric serves to undermine the human rights and safety of people in need

Home Secretary Suella Braverman arrived in a Chinook helicopter for a visit to the Manston immigration short-term holding facility on 3 November 2022. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA/Alamy

‘Heightening Tensions from the Far-Right’Braverman’s Dangerous Asylum Approach

Campaigners and experts warn that the Home Secretary’s rhetoric serves to undermine the human rights and safety of people in need

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Suella Braverman, reinstated as the UK’s Home Secretary, told Parliament this week that “the British people deserve to know which party is serious about stopping the invasion on our southern coast”. She said 40,000 people have arrived on the south coast this year alone, some of them facilitated by gangs and some of them gang members themselves.

 “Let’s stop pretending they are all refugees in distress,” she continued. “The whole country knows that is not true. The system is broken. Illegal migration is out of control.”

The rest of her speech added fuel to the fire of the asylum seeker fear-mongering this Government has attempted to whip up in recent years. Braverman is back, and her return looks like it could usher in a legacy of human rights violations worse than her predecessor, Priti Patel. 

Under Patel, the Nationality and Borders Act was enshrined into law, directly in opposition to advice from countless human rights charities and organisations which raised concerns that it undermines fundamental tenants of the international refugee protection regime.

“The Nationality and Borders Act seeks to criminalise those seeking safety here that travel irregularly without offering any safe routes,” said Louise Calvey, an independent refugee and asylum specialist. “The Government is seeking to double-down on that by implementing plans to ‘offshore’ people to an unrelated third country – Rwanda in this case.  

“These are steps that fundamentally undermine the Refugee Convention which acknowledges the need for people forced to migrate to travel across ‘safe counties’ or travel irregularly.”

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What Patel started, Braverman clearly wants to finish – using anti-immigrant rhetoric designed to persuade people to back her plans for an ever-increasing ‘hostile environment’ towards refugees and asylum seekers.  

“Her language is incredibly dangerous,” Beth Gardiner-Smith, CEO at Safe Passage, said in response to Braverman’s speech. “And it is particularly worrying to hear that from a Home Secretary just a day after the terrorist attack in Dover – totally irresponsible.”

The day before Braverman spoke of an “invasion”, a man threw petrol bombs attached to fireworks at a centre for processing migrants in Dover.

“Aside from the crumbling of our country’s respect for international human rights, Braverman’s incendiary remarks only serve to heighten tensions from the far-right,” Calvey added.

Both Braverman and Patel have used ‘othering’ language when speaking about asylum seekers and refugees – language that makes these people seem like a threat; something to fear. In this process, it degrades them. But such rhetoric can also lead the public to believe that people crossing the Channel are scroungers and criminals who should be kept out of the UK, criminalised for even attempting to come here.

“We know from the high number of positive asylum decisions that the vast majority of people entering the UK irregularly are refugees in need of protection,” said Calvey. “Even if they weren’t, our asylum system should determine that quickly, effectively and treat people well throughout.” 

Charities working with modern slavery and trafficking victims are worried how the Home Secretary’s rhetoric about refugees and asylum seekers will further harm victims who are attempting to come to the UK. Weeks ago, Braverman said that trafficking claims from “people gaming the system” were “derailing the UK’s policy on illegal immigration”. 

Lucy Symington, parliamentary officer at Anti-Slavery International, said “we know of no abuse in the system and we urge the Home Office to provide evidence for these claims”.

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“We are concerned that this Government is allowing false and dangerous narratives to take root, and crucially survivors are not being listened to,” she added. “The Home Secretary has a duty to protect victims of modern slavery, but victims and survivors are being failed. ”

Forty thousand people have crossed the Channel this year. When this figure is compared to other countries, it emerges that the numbers coming to the UK are manageable and far less than other European nations. It has also been observed that, while small boat crossings attract a lot of political attention, the numbers are relatively low in comparison to the visas issued for the Hong Kong and Ukrainian schemes. 

“We need to put this into perspective – the capacity of Wembley stadium is 90,000 people and the number of people who crossed is this year is 40,000,” said Gardiner-Smith. 

Even though the numbers are not as astronomical as Braverman would have us believe, no one wants to see that many people taking dangerous journeys across the Channel. “But this is a manifestation of the failure of this Government to deal with the root issues – the lack of safe routes available,” she added. 

Irregular routes formally used – ferry and train crossings – have been closed, leaving people to risk their lives on the Channel. If people manage to get the UK, they are faced with a system that punishes them for making it.

“What has caused the problems we’ve seen in Manston is a halving of asylum decision-making,” said Calvey. “People in the asylum system are not permitted to work, therefore they’re dependent on the state throughout their asylum claim, for housing and income. As asylum decisions aren’t coming through for people, they’re having to stay in asylum accommodation longer – so essentially the Home Office has run out of asylum accommodation.”

Next week, the UK’s United Nations Universal Periodic Review will take place – a process held every five years to review the human rights records of all 193 UN member states.

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“This takes the form of a report which is read out in person, with a livestream available,” said Symington. “Each report will include recommendations, which the country being reviewed will choose whether to accept or not. Once we know what they are accepting or rejecting, it is up to civil society to hold them accountable. We urge the Home Secretary and Prime Minister to take seriously the recommendations from the Universal Periodic Review and uphold the strong human rights record in the UK.”

Will this be a moment of reckoning in the Government’s treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, some who may also be victims of modern slavery and trafficking?

In its submission to the Periodic Review, charity Human Rights Watch highlighted several breaches of refugee and migrant rights and made recommendations that would uphold the rights of the vulnerable group. 

“I am not optimist about whether it will have an impact on the Government’s action,” said Gardiner-Smith. “The Home Secretary has a very dim view of the importance of human rights.”  

Calvey is equally disheartened. “It’s difficult to see a positive route forward in the currently political landscape. I have no doubt that a non-Tory government will be less vicious towards migrants, but every party seems fixed on stopping Channel crossings through harsher measures – and these won’t work. Only safe routes will prevent small boat crossings.”

As Suella Braverman continues making statements and decisions that threaten to undermine the human rights of refugees and asylum seekers, public attitudes towards immigration seems to be evolving. “One thing everyone reading this can do is challenge hostile migration rhetoric when you encounter it, challenge our politicians to do better,” Calvey urged. “Public attitudes are bigger and kinder than Government or party policy.”

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