UK’s asylum bill at variance with obligations under int’l human rights : UN human rights chief

By Anadolu Agency

UK’s draft asylum legislation would be at variance with its obligations under international human rights and refugee law, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk told Anadolu in an interview to mark the annual International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

“I am deeply concerned at this legislation that would allow the UK authorities to detain and remove all those who enter the UK using small boats to cross the Channel, ban their future re-entry to the UK and prohibit them from applying for UK citizenship,” he said. “Such a wholesale ban preventing people from seeking asylum and other forms of international protection in the UK would be at variance with the UK’s obligations under international human rights and refugee law.”

The laws also present a number of distinct issues with regard to human rights, such as the violation of the right to individual assessment, restrictions on refoulment and collective expulsions, as well as arbitrary immigration detention, he said.

He added: “All people compelled to leave their country of origin to seek safety and dignity abroad are entitled to the full respect of their human rights, regardless of their migration status or mode of arrival.”

Introduced on March 7, the Illegal Migration Bill, which aims at deporting migrants entering the country on small boats, has been met with criticism from human rights organizations and refugee advocates who argue that it violates international law and the UK’s obligations under the Refugee Convention.

All asylum seekers, refugees should have full access to their rights regardless of their citizenship

Asked to evaluate the way European countries are handling refugee flow after Russia’s war on Ukraine with regards to discrimination as some refugees and asylum seekers are facing different treatment than others, Turk said it is “important to remember that the prohibition of racial discrimination is a fundamental principle of international human rights law, applicable in time of peace and conflict; Article 3 of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees requires the contracting parties to apply the provisions of the Convention without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin.”

“I call on states to ensure that all those who flee their countries, seeking protection, have full access to their rights, regardless of the color of their skin, their citizenship or nationality,” he said.

Islamophobia ‘poisonous’ for entire societies

Turk said discrimination against Muslims has been observed in many spheres of life in many regions of the world.

“Islamophobia – and any harmful discrimination on the basis of religion – is poisonous for the victims and for entire societies,” he argued.

Stressing the “crucial” role of political and religious leaders to speak out firmly against intolerance and to make clear that violence can never be tolerated as a response to provocation, Turk said deliberate provocations, such as recent incidents of burning the Quran, the Muslim holy book, are “intended to drive wedges between communities, which is unacceptable.”

He also mentioned the discrimination that Muslims face in the area of employment if the candidates openly identify themselves as Muslim on their CVs, which results in fewer invitations to a job interview compared to other equally qualified candidates.

Regarding hate speech against Muslims, he said the topic has a specific gender dimension, particularly when it comes to women wearing religious attire.

“We have encouraged awareness-raising programmes in schools and workplaces regarding women’s rights and religion, to rectify misconceptions related to veils,” he said.

“We must ensure that everyone is free to practice their religion, as equals in society, without discrimination and hatred. Each of us has a role to play in our communities, workplaces and countries.”

States need to take ‘specific, urgent’ anti-discrimination actions

The human rights chief pointed out the need of taking “specific and urgent” actions by states, “including adopting comprehensive anti-discrimination laws and policies and strengthening human rights institutions.”

“We must also confront past legacies of racism and racial discrimination and to deliver reparatory justice,” Turk said. “For this political will is of a paramount importance.”

He reminded governments their obligation to combat racism and racial discrimination under international human rights law, in particular, the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, as xenophobia and related intolerance are on the rise across the globe.

“People of African descent, national, ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities, indigenous peoples and Roma and Sinti communities are stereotyped, stigmatised and marginalised, facing systemic discrimination across all areas of their lives,” he said. “Migrants and refugees are often vilified and attacked.”

Leaders and politicians endorse or even promote these messages of hate “all too often,” he said, adding that racism, and all forms of discrimination, “destroy the fabric of our societies.”

“Racism sows division and fuels inequalities, hate crime and violence. It undermines development, peace, democracy, and the rule of law,” he said. “And it is an affront to human dignity.”

He called on states “to recommit to the vision of a world where every person is treated with dignity and respect, no matter where they were born or the colour of their skin,” as the world marks the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.