European countries closing doors to refugees, anti-migrant wave obvious, widespread: Human Rights Watch

Sun, 12 Mar 2023 7:53 GMT
UK government is ‘demonizing migrants, fueling hatred, fear, division against asylum seekers, migrants,’ says official.
European countries closing doors to refugees, anti-migrant wave obvious, widespread: Human Rights Watch

European countries are closing their doors to those seeking asylum and endangering them by being involved in “unlawful and illegal” practices, according to an official from a global rights group.

“Many European countries are closing their doors to people seeking their protection and engaging in very harmful, dangerous practices that are non-compliant with human rights law or refugee law that put people in grave danger,” Emilie McDonnell, UK advocacy and communications coordinator at Human Rights Watch, told Anadolu in an exclusive interview.

McDonnell said sentiments European countries harbor toward refugees were becoming evident and common.

“There certainly is (a wave against migrants). And it is not something that is new. But it’s certainly becoming more widespread, more obvious,” she said,

The UK government introduced new legislation Tuesday against illegal migrants, calling for a ban on those who cross the English Channel by boat to claim asylum in Britain. The legislation also calls for the detention of refugees and plans for their removal to their home countries or Rwanda or any other nations which the UK deems safe.

The human rights advocate dubbed the legislation a “sweeping bill” that strips most asylum seekers of appeal rights, only being able to appeal after they have been removed and sent or expelled to another country as well as being unable to access the UK’s modern slavery protection.

While there are exceptions in the bill related to unaccompanied children, the government can still choose to remove them, or they would be in detention until they are adults — expelling and not giving them access to the asylum procedure.

Regarding loopholes in the legislation, McDonnell said the bill allows very few limited appeal rights and she fears there is a grave risk that people would be expelled and removed to countries that are not safe.

“All of this legislation is part of a broader context in the UK which is that the UK government is very much demonizing and fueling hatred, fear, and division against asylum seekers and migrants in the UK.”

It would be disastrous and have devastating effects on migrants, particularly people of color in the UK, she said.

Afghans highest number crossing Channel in boats in last quarter of 2022

The highest number of people crossing the English Channel are those seeking protection from countries such as Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, and Eritrea and places where persecution, wars and human rights abuses are rife. Asylum seekers cannot be returned to those countries as they are not safe, she said.

Very limited safe routes exist for individuals who want to arrive in the UK. Afghans were the highest number crossing the Channel in boats in the last quarter of 2022.

But schemes that the government set up for Afghans to travel safely are plagued with problems and not functioning properly, she said.

“Only 22 Afghans have been resettled during 2022 under the UN resettlement pathway that the UK government set up, and none under the pathway that the UK government set up for people who worked with the British in Afghanistan and for vulnerable people,” she said. Women and girls who are at risk have no safe routes to get to the UK either, said the Human Rights Watch official.

Britain takes far fewer asylum seekers than other European countries, while France and Germany take the majority of asylum claims.

But Human Rights Watch has documented the “awful and deplorable” condition of asylum seekers in encampments, especially in northern France.

McDonnell termed the new legislation a “breach” of the UK’s international obligation to the UN’s 1951 Refugee Convention.

“It is a flagrant breach of the UN refugee convention. It is not illegal to seek asylum, and it is irrelevant how a person arrived to the UK – whether they arrived through a regular route or whether they had to go by boat, or in the back of a lorry or by foot, and the government is really fueling this in its rhetoric and stoking division,” said McDonnell.

Details of where people would be detained are also sparse. Last year 45,000 people crossed the Channel – this year, there are predictions of 65,000.

“There is no way currently that the UK government could mass detain 65,000 people. It is alarming that the government is pushing ahead with a very unworkable and unlawful bill,” she said.

The “global refugee regime” is at the moment under grave threat by countries such as the UK and other European countries, according to McDonnell. Meanwhile, Rwanda is not a safe place to expel migrants, she said.

McDonnell urged the implementation of workable solutions that the UK government should produce. For instance, to avoid deaths at the sea the UK should invest in opening safe routes, expanding resettlements and provide humanitarian visas for asylum seekers.

“This is a cruel, unworkable and illegal bill. The UK should focus on actual solutions that prevent people from taking these dangerous journeys rather than demonizing refugees and stoking fear and division,” she said.


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