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Sunday, September 27, 2020
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Why we must get out of the Geneva Convention

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‘OUR asylum system is in chaos’; ‘the current system encourages illegality’. No, not direct quotes from politicians today but extracts from the Conservative Party’s 2005 General Election manifesto. It continued: ‘On asylum, a Conservative government will not allow outdated and inflexible rules to prevent us shaping a system which is more humane, more likely to improve community relations and better managed.’ It explicitly promised: ‘We will take national control of asylum policy (and) withdraw from the 1951 Geneva Convention.’

The Tories lost the election but such statements were unlikely to have been major factors in the electorate opting once again for a Blair-led Labour government. Yet, as Britain continues to be invaded by sea, there has been no public recognition by politicians, Mr Farage included, that it is outdated and inflexible treaties which are the underlying cause. 

The 1951 Refugee Convention was meant to deal with the situation in Europe after World War II. There was a single UN High Commissioner for Refugees rather than a Commission as the expectation was that after a few years he would be practically redundant. Even after the UK signed the 1967 Protocol which turned the Convention into a worldwide instrument, numbers seeking asylum here were small. Two events in particular led to their swelling from around 1990 onwards.

First came the collapse of the Soviet Bloc. Laughably, the pro-asylum lobby used to bemoan the existence of ‘Fortress Europe’ long after the bloc’s tight frontiers with its walls, watchtowers and what could properly be described as border forces had disappeared. Then the EU adopted the Schengen Agreement. With its outer borders already weakened, once inside the Schengen Zone, anyone, not just EU citizens, were virtually free to travel where they liked. Hence, the ease with which potential illegal entrants to Britain can reach the Channel coast of France.

Despite the Dublin Agreement, there is no legal obligation to seek asylum in the first EU country reached. In truth, even before arrival in the EU many of the asylum aspirants were already physically safe. The main impetus to move elsewhere has to be the lure of potential economic betterment, with Britain clearly perceived as a particularly attractive location. There is nothing wrong in principle with legal economic migration but that is not what asylum is supposed to be about. The Geneva Convention makes no mention of this as grounds on which to be recognised as a refugee. This phenomenon has become so prevalent that it is now pointless to try to make any distinction between economic migrant and refugee, reason enough to withdraw from the treaties which have become charters for illegal immigrants and money-making machines for people traffickers, not to mention immigration lawyers. Also, how involved are ‘refugee charities’ in all this, especially those operating on the other side of the Channel? What exactly are they telling migrants about Britain? 

Some may note the irony about events in the Channel in view of the Cameron government’s indecent haste in sending Royal Navy vessels to pick up illegals in the Mediterranean to dump them in Italy. Nor does it help every time a minister or Home Office official spouts the rhetoric about our proud tradition of offering sanctuary. As we are experiencing, there are thousands willing to try to take us up on that offer, amongst millions in the world who think they might have some claim for asylum, such has been the liberal interpretation of the Convention, almost certainly not envisaged by its authors, coupled with judicial decisions that go against the public and national interest. Anyway, what is the point of having a ‘system’ in which even if unsuccessful, an applicant is still able to stay here because we cannot remove them for one reason or another? This of course leads on to the serious need to overhaul human rights legislation.

It’s also a very expensive business for the taxpayer, many of whom would rather see the money better spent on properly defending our borders. In a recent Commons debate, Immigration Minister Chris Philp stated that it was costing millions to house asylum seekers in Glasgow alone during the coronavirus pandemic.

We shouldn’t be worried that withdrawal would undermine our status as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Two of the five members, Russia and China, display nothing of the same subservience to the asylum treaties, whilst many in this country question the position of France, suspecting it is only too happy to pass some of its illegal immigrant problem on to us. Furthermore there are some functioning democracies, such as Malaysia and Indonesia, which are not parties to either document.

The Geneva Convention and Protocol remain ‘the great unmentionables’. Until we are willing to countenance the truth, that these (and attendant human rights legislation) are the real source of the problem, we can expect thousands to arrive every year to stake their claim. The people-smugglers will continue to have plenty of customers. 

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Michael Smyth
Michael Smyth is a retired inner London teacher.

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