In the News

Issues associated with Global Governance: Asylum 2023

Alice Griffiths

9th March 2023

Struggling to find an ‘issue associated with attempts at global governance’ to discuss in class? This week’s news has come to your rescue, with the UK Government pitted against the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) over the issue of asylum, with the intergovernmental organisation publicly reminding UK leaders of their responsibilities. It neatly illustrates how interactions between different spatial scales, here the national, international and the global scales, are fundamental to understanding global governance.

With much fanfare, the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced the plan to ‘Stop the boats’ on Tuesday stating that if people come to the UK via illegal channels they will be prevented from staying -- detained and returned to their home country or a safe third country, like Rwanda, within weeks. Home Secretary Suella Braverman summarised the Government’s aims in a short media clip (below) which includes reference to the asylum system being ‘overwhelmed’ and the £7 million-a-day cost of putting up asylum seekers in hotels. ‘It’s not fair’ and ‘Enough is enough’ she asserts in the clip.

The Government’s proposed bill, designed to stop small boats crossing the Channel, is seen as controversial not least because the Home Secretary was unable to confirm whether it was compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (potentially putting it at odds with the EU). However the UN Refugee Agency swiftly clarified how it saw the Government's proposals on Twitter, calling it 'an asylum ban'.

‘This would be a clear breach of the Refugee Convention and would undermine a longstanding, humanitarian tradition of which the British people are rightly proud’ it continues, in Tuesday's press release.

Highlighting the fact that there are no safe and ‘legal’ routes available to people fleeing war and persecution, the UNHCR’s statement reminded the UK that the Refugee Convention explicitly recognises that refugees may be compelled to enter a country of asylum irregularly. Further, it welcomes the UK’s recent ‘enhanced dialogue’ with France and encourages it to enhance regional cooperation to address the current challenges with growing numbers of people resorting to dangerous journeys across the Channel.

This isn’t the first time that this intergovernmental organisation has clashed with a country seeking to disrupt the international norms around international refugee movements.

For wider context, ‘Stop the boats’ is exactly the phrase used by the Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott a decade ago when he was also seeking re-election. Australia’s immigration policy, which has hardened over several decades since mandatory detention centres were introduced (1992), and then offshored (2001) to Manus Island (Papua New Guinea) and Nauru, has also been criticised by the UN. While the policies to regulate so-called ‘illegal maritime immigration’ have always been justified in terms of saving lives that would otherwise by lost at sea, the questionable human rights record of Australia’s detention camps, with reports of suicide, rape and medical neglect, puts at best a question mark over the project's ‘cost-benefit analysis’; if such a thing were possible where human beings are involved.

Find out more about the record of Australia's immigration policy in this article published by The Guardian this week.

This BBC article provides a useful summary of the statistics associated with the growth in the arrival of small boats on Britain's shores.

The UK is a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol. International law does not require that refugees claim asylum in the first country that they reach.

Alice Griffiths

Alice has taught Geography over a period of twenty years. She is a published author and editor of a wide range of A level resources and has also created award-winning, online content for younger students. An occasional presenter at the GA’s annual conference, she was head of department at an 11-18 school until 2020.

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