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Today, the UK government’s Nationality and Borders Bill reaches the report stage in the House of Commons, where MPs will have the opportunity to consider a number of important amendments to protect the rights of refugees in the UK. Professor Alexander Betts and Refugee Council CEO Enver Solomon explain in today’s Times Red Box how Britain can welcome refugees without losing public support.

Betts and Solomon state that the Bill contravenes international refugee law by criminalising arrival without a valid visa. It also “entrenches the fact that the only way for most refugees to seek sanctuary in the UK is by using smugglers to evade border controls.” Recent analysis by the Refugee Council shows that 7 out of 10 people crossing the channel on small boats are likely to be given refugee status or protection.

Betts and Solomon also highlight that the so-called ‘safe third country’ principle does not exist in international law, which allows refugees to seek asylum in any signatory country to the 1951 Refugee Convention. And further, that France is not obliged to force refugees to stay in France and refugees have no obligation to stay in France – though far more do stay in France than come to Britain.

However, they also emphasise that “both the opposition and the government need to ensure the asylum system and how it operates retains broad public support.” They argue, however, that the UK can do better, and “There is much latitude for greater moral leadership on the issue.”

Within the EU, the Dublin system assigns responsibility for assessing an asylum claim to the first country of arrival within the EU. As Betts and Solomon state, this system has been severely strained by the large-scale refugee movements since 2015 because it lacks adequate responsibility sharing between countries, so the European Commission has proposed revisions whereby asylum claims can still be assessed in frontline countries but then relocated — based on quotas and preferences — to other countries in Europe. Betts and Solomon argue that these ideas could “provide inspiration for renewed cooperation with France”, with joint processing of asylum claims in northern France. They ask “Could those who are recognised as refugees within that process — and wish to come to our country — then be provided with safe passage?”

They state “Relocation to the UK could be based on an agreed allocation mechanism. Such a model would mean that asylum processing could take place mainly in France but responsibility for accepting and integrating recognised refugees would be shared.”

Read the full article at Times Red Box

See also the Refugee Council’s Nationality and Borders Bill House of Commons Report stage briefing (pdf).