Skip to main content

UK interior minister to question role of UN refugee convention

UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman is to challenge the UN Refugee Convention
— London (AFP)

UK interior minister Suella Braverman was on Tuesday to question whether the United Nations Refugee Convention was "fit for our modern age" during a keynote speech at a US think-tank in Washington.

The speech at the centre-right American Enterprise Institute is intended to lay out an international plan to deal with the refugee crisis, a key political issue for her struggling Conservative party back home.

Braverman is set to call the UN convention "an incredible achievement of its age", according to extracts released to the British media.

"But more than 70 years on, we now live in a completely different time," she was to say, citing a study that says the convention now gives 780 million people the potential right to move to another country.

"It is therefore incumbent upon politicians and thought leaders to ask whether the Refugee Convention, and the way it has come to be interpreted through our courts, is fit for our modern age. Or whether it is in need of reform."

Western countries will not be able to sustain an asylum system "if in effect simply being gay, or a woman, and fearful of discrimination in your country of origin is sufficient to qualify for protection", she was to add.

- 'Absurd' -

The 1951 Refugee Convention legally defines the term "refugee" and outlines their rights.

The UK government is currently languishing in the polls and has been struggling to stem the flow since Brexit of small boat crossings from mainland Europe.

Almost 24,000 people have made the trip this year, adding to a record backlog in asylum claims and heaping pressure on ministers who promised to "take back control" of UK borders after leaving the European Union.

Almost 24,000 people have crossed to England from mainland Europe in small boats this year

Controversial proposals to tackle the issue include criminalising irregular migration and sending failed asylum seekers for resettlement in Rwanda.

Braverman, a lawyer who has criticised the European Convention on Human Rights for blocking the Rwanda scheme, will say that a system where "people are able to travel through multiple safe countries... while they pick their preferred destination to claim asylum, is absurd and unsustainable".

But non-profit group the Refugee Council said the UK should instead be "addressing the real issues in the asylum system, such as the record backlog, and providing safe routes for those in need of protection" rather than taking aim at the UN convention.

Yvette Cooper, home affairs spokeswoman for the opposition Labour Party, accused Braverman of having "given up on fixing the Tories' asylum chaos" and is "looking for anyone else to blame".

While in the United States, Braverman is due to meet US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Attorney General Merrick Garland for talks on migration, among other topics.