Braverman Not Ruling out UK Leaving Refugee Convention as UNHCR Rejects Call for Reform

The home secretary insisted the government will do 'whatever it takes' to stop the smuggling of immigrants across the English Channel.
Braverman Not Ruling out UK Leaving Refugee Convention as UNHCR Rejects Call for Reform
Home Secretary Suella Braverman delivers a keynote address on global migration challenges at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington DC, during her three-day visit to the United States on Sept. 26, 2023. (Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)
Lily Zhou

Suella Braverman has refused to rule out taking the UK out of a global refugee agreement as the United Nations' human rights arm rejected her call to reform the charter on Tuesday.

In a speech to the think tank the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, the home secretary said developed nations have "no capacity to meet more than a fraction of" the demand for immigration.

She urged politicians and thought leaders around the world to consider whether the 1951 Refugee Convention and the way it's interpreted in courts are “fit for our modern age or in need of reform.”

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has rejected the necessity for change.

Asked if the UK would leave the U.N. convention if it's too difficult to reform during a Q and A session after the speech, Ms. Braverman said she would try to gain support from other countries, but didn't rule out leaving the convention.

"Just because multilateral negotiations are difficult it’s not a reason not to engage with international partners who are grappling with similar challenges and asking elemental questions about whether the frameworks are fit for purpose, and so I am seeking to build consensus internationally," the home secretary said.

Ms. Braverman said she agrees with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on doing "whatever it takes to stop the boats," referring to the smuggling of immigrants across the English Channel.

"And that illustrates the resolve, the intent, and the commitment of the UK government to fix this problem, whatever is required,” she said.

The home secretary, born to Indian parents who immigrated from Kenya and Mauritius, said she "fundamentally refute[s]" the suggestion that she has to support migration and the status quo because she's "the child of immigrants."

“They came to the UK lawfully, by the rules, occupying their place in the queue," she said of her parents.

"I think it’s informed my view of migration," the home secretary said, adding that she believes Britons are angered by the sense of "unfairness" and "injustice" that some people are "jumping the queue" and "gaming the system."

During her speech, Ms. Braverman said that losing control over borders risks the loss of public consent, without which "immigration is illegitimate."

She criticised "NGOs and others including the U.N. refugee agency," saying they contested the interpretation of the Refugee Convention that people should seek refuge and claim asylum in the first safe country they reach.

As a result, "people are able to travel through multiple safe countries and even reside in safe countries for years while they pick and choose their preferred destination to claim asylum," she said, calling the status quo "absurd."

 A group of people thought to be migrants, including young children, are brought into Dover, Kent, on Sept. 26, 2023. (Gareth Fuller/PA)
A group of people thought to be migrants, including young children, are brought into Dover, Kent, on Sept. 26, 2023. (Gareth Fuller/PA)

UNHCR: No Need to Reform Refugee Convention

Reacting to her call to reform the convention, the UNHCR said there's no need to change the convention or its interpretation.
The convention "has been widely recognised as capable of providing protection to these groups, amongst others," the UNHCR said in a statement.

"The need is not for reform, or more restrictive interpretation, but for stronger and more consistent application of the convention and its underlying principle of responsibility-sharing."

The UNHCR said 70 percent of refugees remain in neighbouring countries.

It also said the UK should speed up its processing of asylum applications, which would "accelerate the integration of those found to be refugees and facilitate the swift return of those who have no legal basis to stay."

On Tuesday, 212 people were detected crossing the English Channel on three boats after an eight-day break from crossings, according to preliminary figures published by the Home Office.

It brings to total number of small boat arrivals this year to 24,208, compared to more than 32,200 during the same period last year.

Asked how likely it is that Mr. Sunak will deliver his pledge to stop the boats, Ms. Braverman said on Tuesday: “We made progress this year. We have passed the largest piece of legislation, the largest changes, set of reforms, to our migration laws in a decade.”