In Depth

Tory MPs demand overhaul of ‘not fit for purpose’ asylum system

Newly formed Common Sense Group of politicians urges Boris Johnson to ban refugees from ‘safe’ countries

More than 40 Conservative MPs have called on the prime minister to “take back control of our borders” by introducing a new bill that ends asylum claims by migrants who have passed through “safe” countries.

In a letter seen by The Telegraph, the newly formed Common Sense Group of Tory politicians tell Boris Johnson that the government must overhaul the UK’s asylum system, which “is unfit for purpose”, as “a matter of urgency”. 

“Nothing less than root and branch reform is acceptable,” warn the MPs, who want to prohibit “claims from asylum seekers who have travelled through ‘safe’ countries and are not lodged immediately after the individual has arrived in the UK”.

What are the current rules?

“Record numbers of asylum seekers have crossed the Channel to reach the UK this year”, with more than 5,000 migrants making the crossing so far, says The Telegraph.

The hike in new arrivals from France has prompted “locals to call for the boats to be blocked”, while campaign groups are “urging the government to improve routes into the UK for legitimate refugees and asylum seekers, particularly children”, adds The Times

Under current asylum laws in the UK, crossing the Channel without authorisation is not a legal way to enter the country.

But Article 31 of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, also known as the Geneva Convention, states that refugees cannot be penalised for entering the country to claim asylum if they are “coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened”, FullFact reports. 

They must “present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence”, the fact-checking site notes.

One of the most common complaints about the UK’s current law is that many asylum seekers who attempt to cross the Channel to Britain have already transited through countries such as France or Germany.

However, neither the Geneva Convention nor EU law requires a person to claim asylum in the first safe country they reach.

The only exceptions relate to an EU directive known as the Dublin Regulation, which dictates that an asylum seeker can be sent back to another EU country if they have already been fingerprinted and claimed asylum there.

But “the Dublin system only operates within the EU and it will almost certainly cease to apply to the UK following Brexit”, according to London-based charity Refugee Action.

What do the MPs want?

Earlier this month, Home Secretary Priti Patel told MPs that migrants were seeking to cross the Channel to Britain because they believed that France was a “racist country” where they may be “tortured”.

But that claim has been rebuked by the new Common Sense Group of Tory MPs, who argue that the crossings have become a “highly lucrative industry” by a “motivated elite” who are “expertly gaming the immigration system for their own ends”.

In their letter to Johnson, the politicians say that “geography dictates that the vast majority of asylum seekers who arrive in the United Kingdom have travelled through numerous safe countries. Not only does this illustrate that safety is not the primary motive for many migrants, it exposes thousands to the wicked exploitation of unscrupulous people traffickers.”

The MPs, who include Edward Leigh and former security minister John Hayes, say that the UK offer of “refuge to those at genuine risk of persecution is a long and noble national commitment”. But “that noble cause is undermined by those determined to take advantage of the compassion and generosity of the British people”, they add.

According to data from EU statistical office Eurostat, Germany received the most first-time asylum applications in the EU last year, at 23.3%, followed by France (19.6%) and Spain (18.8%).

Each of the three countries took in well over 100,000 refugees, while Britain took 44,156 in the same period.

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