UK plans to follow the lead of Denmark in seeking to establish offshore asylum processing centres have been met with swift condemnation from civil society groups and lawyers who argue that it would breach the country’s international obligations on refugees.
The provision to allow asylum claims to be processed outside the UK, potentially in third countries, is part of the Nationality and Borders Bill unveiled on Tuesday (6 July) by Home Secretary Priti Patel, which seeks to reduce migration to the UK.
The bill would also introduce longer maximum sentences for those entering the UK without a legal reason, and new powers for the UK’s Border Force to stop and divert boats suspected of carrying illegal migrants.
Tim Naor Hilton, chief executive of Refugee Action, described the proposal as an “extreme and nasty anti-refugee bill [that] has no place in any country that seeks to defend human rights and the rule of law.”
Meanwhile, the Law Society of England and Wales warned that it would likely breach the UK’s obligations under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention.
Last month, a controversial Danish law was passed which allows for refugees to be sent to a third country and for their asylum applications to be processed there. The Social Democrat-led government has since held negotiations with a handful of African countries about hosting the centres in exchange for development aid, with Rwanda touted as a likely candidate after Denmark agreed to upgrade the country’s asylum system earlier this year.
The European Commission has expressed concern about Denmark’s plans, although the EU executive has also explored the idea of outsourcing border control. The Commission has a cash–for–migrants deal with Turkey and less formal cooperation deals on border control with north African countries, including Morocco and Egypt.
Having left the EU’s Dublin scheme on immigration and asylum, which allows EU countries to transfer asylum seekers to fellow member states as their claims are processed, Boris Johnson’s government is anxious to strike reciprocal agreements with countries on asylum.
The UK is set to see record numbers of asylum claims this year, with 6,000 people having crossed the English Channel in the first six months of 2021, up from 8,417 crossings in the whole of 2020. The Home Office is already dealing with a backlog of 109,000 outstanding asylum claims.
According to media reports, UK officials have already held discussions with the Danes about possible cooperation and sharing the costs and use of an asylum centre.
However, the Danish government has suffered a setback to its plans after failing to include the asylum centre plan in a new four-year development strategy which was backed by a broad majority in parliament. MPs involved in the process say the government, realising it would not obtain a majority, pulled the proposal before negotiations started.
The new development strategy stresses that Denmark will honour the UN Refugee Convention and international human rights agreements, as well as the UN Global Compact for Migration.
[Edited by Josie Le Blond]