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Bishop of Southwark criticises ‘blarney’ of new rules on asylum claims

04 June 2021

Roger Harris

The Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun

The Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun

THE Government is “engaging in blarney” in its plans to treat as inadmissible the asylum claims of those who arrive in the UK after travelling through another “safe” country, the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, told the House of Lords last week.

Bishop Chessun was speaking in a Motion of Regret moved by Lord Green of Deddington, last Thursday, which lamented the lack of transparency in the Government’s changes to immigration rules — described by Lord Green as “the most significant changes in our immigration system for half a century”.

Under the new rules, the Home Office does not have to consider the merits of an asylum claim if the claimant has travelled through any “safe” third country, regardless of whether they have previously claimed asylum, or whether any of the transit countries have indicated a willingness to take them.

Critics have questioned whether third countries will be persuaded to take such claimants. The post-Brexit UK is no longer a member of the Dublin III Regulation: a piece of EU legislation that enables members to request that other member states “take charge of” or “take back” asylum applications.

“In the absence of Dublin, are the Government engaging in blarney?” Bishop Chessun asked. “I understand the Government’s animus against people-smuggling— that is terribly important. It is reasonable to suppose that most people seeking safety find refuge in the first safe country they reach, and they do.

“However, there are always reasons why some do not. What the Home Office might consider safe is not universally experienced as such. There are also linguistic, cultural, and family ties to be taken into consideration in seeking a destination, as well as access to routes. Furthermore, the refugee convention makes no such requirement of those fleeing persecution that they must do so in a specified geographical radius. To do so would be to burden many countries already dealing with enormous refugee issues.

“Therefore, by making in law an automatic presumption against any claim from someone who has not arrived in the UK except in a prescribed manner and prescribed place, is the minister confident that we meet our obligations under international law? Would it not be far more effective to establish effective and legal routes which asylum-seekers can readily access? That would reduce the demand upon which organised crime is currently feeding.”

He was among several peers who expressed concern at the lack of scrutiny given to the changes, noting that the House of Lords had just 90 minutes to examine a set of statutory instruments, one of which ran to 507 pages.

In her reply to the debate, the Home Office Minister Baroness Williams of Trafford argued that “those who fear persecution should claim asylum in the first safe country that they reach. We are determined to send a clear signal that it is completely unacceptable for individuals to travel through multiple safe countries to claim asylum in the UK. I have said time and again that the only people who benefit from this are the criminals, who have no regard for human life at all.”

The Government would “make every effort to remove those who enter the UK illegally, having travelled through a safe country first in which they could and should have claimed asylum”.

On Tuesday, a new coalition campaign — Together With Refugees — warned that two in every three women and children that the UK would accept as refugees now would be turned away in future under the new rules. It gave the example of Mariam, a clinical support worker on a Covid-19 ward in Leeds, who came to the UK in the back of a lorry in 2009, having fled Eritrea.

The coalition of refugee charities says that the majority of people who claim asylum are lack access to “regular” routes: their only option is to enter irregularly, by crossing the Channel in small boats or in the back of a lorry. It is seeking a “fair and humane approach to the UK’s refugee system, including with new safe routes, so that people don’t have to risk their life taking dangerous journeys”.

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