UK must keep its borders open to refugees

17 January 2008

By imposing ever stricter border controls, the UK Government is undermining its obligation - enshrined in the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees - to protect people seeking asylum, Scottish Refugee Council will say at its AGM on Friday (Jan 18).

Recently, the number of refugees worldwide rose for the first time in many years to 14 million, while the number of asylum applications to the UK has fallen by almost three quarters since 1999.

This drop has coincided with the introduction of increased controls by the UK Government, such as enhanced visa requirements for people travelling from refugee-producing countries, the posting of UK immigration officers abroad to prevent people from reaching our shores, new technologies to detect migrants in transit, and the fining of airlines who carry people without the necessary travel documentation.

Crucially, none of these controls distinguish between people fleeing danger and other migrants trying to come to the UK.

Sally Daghlian, chief executive, Scottish Refugee Council, says:

“The relentless tightening of border controls is limiting the fundamental right to claim asylum.

People who are fleeing war, torture and other persecution are being forced into irregular means of travel, placing themselves in the hands of unscrupulous smugglers or traffickers and risking their lives to reach safety. Many are suffering horrific violence and human rights abuses along the way. Many are dying.

The UK must ensure that its border controls and immigration requirements have doors for refugees. We cannot turn our backs on people whose lives are in danger.”

This situation in the UK is reflected EU-wide, where increased border controls have coincided with asylum applications falling to a 20-year low.

Dr Christopher Hein, director of the Italian Council for Refugees, key note speaker at Scottish Refugee Council’s AGM, says:

"In Italy and in the whole of Southern Europe, we are extremely concerned that the number of people dying in the Mediterranean Sea and the Eastern Atlantic is ever increasing: 243 last December, 1861 during 2007.

The majority amongst these are refugees forced, in the absence of any alternative route, to cross the sea on their journey from North Africa and Turkey to the European Union.

The opening of safe and legal ways to reach Europe must be a priority - present policies in our countries just go in the opposite direction.”

End

Notes for Editors:

  • Scottish Refugee Council’s AGM and Public Meeting is on Friday January 18 at Glasgow City Chambers. Keynote speeches will commence at 245pm. Media welcome.
  • In July, the Prime Minister announced the establishment of a new organisation called the UK Border Agency, integrating the work of the Border & Immigration Agency, Her Majesties Revenue & Customs and UKvisas. The UK has also developed a network of 55 staff which operates in 32 countries to prevent inadequately documented people – including those seeking asylum - from travelling to the UK. For more information on enhanced UK border controls, visit www.ind.homeoffice.gov.uk/sitecontent/newsarticles/bordercontrolsboosted
  • The EU has a list of 128 countries whose nationals are subject to visa obligations for entry into its territory, including war-torn and refugee producing countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and Palestine.
  • According to the European Councils for Refugees and Exiles [ECRE], estimates of the number of people who have died trying to cross the Mediterranean from Africa between January and July 2006 range from 3,000-25,000.
  • The UK hosts only 2 percent of the world’s refugee population. The majority of the world’s refugees are taken care of by the poorest countries, such as Iran and Pakistan. There are currently 2 million Iraqi refugees in Syria and Jordan.
  • For the latest UK asylum statistics, visit www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/immigration1.html
  • Dr. Christopher Hein is the founder and the director of the Italian Council for Refugees (CIR). CIR is the principal NGO in Italy in the field of asylum and assistance to refugee and asylum seekers. See www.cir-onlus.org
  • Both Scottish Refugee Council and the Italian Council for Refugees are members of ECRE. ECRE is calling on the EU to envisage new ways of allowing legal entry to the EU of people seeking asylum. See www.ecre.org
  • For interviews and more information, contact Aideen McLaughlin on 0141 223 7927/07734 030 763