The home secretary tells ITV News she is on a mission to tackle illegal migration, with migrants 'breaking our rules and gaming our system' - ITV News' Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana reports from Washington DC
Millions of asylum seekers are being encouraged to "try their luck" in a refugee system that poses an "existential challenge to the West" if it remains unchanged, said the home secretary.
In a speech in the US, Suella Braverman said it is time for the "definition of who qualifies for protection" to be "tightened" as she called for reform on international refugee rules.
Ms Braverman said uncontrolled and irregular migration was “an existential challenge for the political and cultural institutions of the West”.
She warned that without a major overhaul and international co-operation, developed nations face being wiped out by a wave of economic migration.
“Just as it is a basic rule of history that nations which cannot defend their borders will not long survive," Ms Braverman said in Washington DC on Tuesday.
The chief executive of the British Red Cross hit back saying that the UN Refugee Convention is "as important and necessary as ever."
Braverman also claimed that fears of being branded “racist” or “illiberal” are hindering states from reforming the global asylum rules.
Ms Braverman hit back at critics, arguing that concerns over immigration does not make one an “idiot” or a “bigot”.
In the address, she said the “cynical” reason that countries had together failed to reform the decades-old global asylum system was a “fear of being branded a racist or illiberal”.
“Any attempt to reform the Refugee Convention will see you smeared as anti-refugee," she argued.
Mrs Braverman said European and United Nations’ accords on refugee rights could be a struggle to update due to the unwieldy task of getting member states to agree on changes.
In pre-briefed comments, she said offering asylum to a person because they are gay, a woman, or fearing discrimination in their home country is not sustainable.
'We will not be able to sustain an asylum system if simply being gay, a woman, or fearful of discrimination in your country of origin is sufficient to qualify for protection', says Braverman
Jeremy Konyndyk, head of Washington based NGO Refugees International, called Tuesday's speech "bad-faith political theater."
"She seeks to manufacture panic rather than propose serious solutions - doubling down on the UK's failing policy of fully blocking access to asylum," he said.
"The Refugee Convention was written to avoid repeating the moral catastrophes of the Second World War - when people fleeing genocide were denied refuge and were returned to prison and death."
While Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s chief executive accused Braverman of “a display of cynicism and xenophobia”.
He added: “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.”
The home secretary was addressing the American Enterprise Institute, a centre-right think tank. She highlighted a worldwide poll by US analytics company Gallup which found that 4% of adults who wanted to permanently leave their homeland – approximately 40 million people – had named Britain as their preferred destination.
“The global asylum framework is a promissory note that the West cannot fulfil,” she warned.
“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.”
Ms Braverman argued that the threshold for asylum has been steadily lowered since the UN Refugee Convention was ratified more than 70 years ago.
She questioned whether the 1951 accord is “fit for our modern age” and asked allied administrations to consider whether it is “in need of reform”.
The decision to rally against multilateral treaties comes against a backdrop of domestic struggles to control irregular migration.
The Cabinet minister is tasked with helping to deliver the prime minister’s pledge of stopping the boats from crossing the Channel — one of five commitments that Rishi Sunak hopes to deliver ahead of a likely general election next year.
Almost 24,000 migrants have arrived into the UK via small boats since January.
The official annual arrivals number, while down 26% from the same period in 2022, is likely to rise after people thought to be migrants were spotted being brought in to Dover, Kent, on Tuesday.
No migrant crossing the Channel to Britain is in 'imminent peril'
The home secretary also went on to declare that no migrant crossing the Channel to Britain was in “imminent peril” and accused some asylum seekers of “shopping around” for their “preferred destination”.
She suggested those arriving from a safe country should “cease to be treated as refugees”.
Taking aim at advocates of multiculturalism, the home secretary said she supported immigration, having been the child of immigrants herself, but claimed that uncontrolled migration risked a threat to nationhood and national security due to a lack of integration.
She said migration had been “too much, too quick” to the UK in the past 25 years, with “too little thought given to integration and the impact on social cohesion”.
“If cultural change is too rapid and too big, then what was already there is diluted — eventually it will disappear,” she added.
Ms Braverman used her US-platform to defend the UK’s approach to tackling migration via unauthorised routes.
The Illegal Migration Act – which has been criticised by the UN’s refugee agency – legislated for those arriving via the Channel to be deported to their country of origin, or to Rwanda after ministers struck a £140 million deal with the east African country.
But the Kigali plan is tied up in the courts, with a deportation flight yet to take off.
The home secretary said the UK’s Rwanda policy should be “recognised as appropriate” and said it was “right” for countries to act bilaterally rather than wait for international reforms to be agreed.
The politician has previously taken aim at the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), signed in 1950, claiming it restricted the government’s efforts to introduce policies such as the Rwanda scheme.
She appeared to keep the door open to potentially leaving the ECHR, as some Tory MPs have called for the government to do.
“Any attempt to reform the refugee convention will see you smeared as anti-refugee,” she said.
“Similar epithets are hurled at anyone who suggests reform of the ECHR 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.
“(It is) as if the UK doesn’t have a proud history of human rights dating back to Magna Carta, and the ECHR is all that is holding us back from becoming Russia.
“America, Canada, New Zealand, and Japan seem to manage just fine.”
A spokesperson for Refugees International hit back at the notion the Refugee convention were no long relevant. He said: "The protections of the Refugee Convention remain relevant and vital - but the UK and other countries have failed to evolve their own national policies to manage asylum effectively alongside frontline countries that host the vast majority of global refugees. Instead, they have simply sought to block safe mobility.
"Migration control efforts by Europe and its proxies alone have led to the deaths of tens of thousands of migrants just in the Mediterranean and the Channel.
"These policies are not just a moral catastrophe, they are also failing on their own terms. Countries like the UK, European Union members, and the United States should focus on bolstering refugee resettlement, developing additional migration pathways, and scaling up their capacity to assess claims for protection."
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