Offshore Asylum Processing
It is clear that the global asylum system is broken. Some 80 million people are on the move around the world, driven from their homes by conflict and instability. Many more people are on the move to seek better prospects, driven by a desire for a better life. The result is increased illegal migration flows, including into Europe and onto the UK, with the asylum systems collapsing under the strain of real humanitarian crises and people smugglers exploiting the system for their own gain.
About 30,000 people crossed the Channel last year illegally from France, and the numbers this year are around double that. They are overwhelmingly young men understandably seeking a better life, rather than women and children. France is obviously a safe country, so people risking their lives coming from France are not doing so to escape immediate danger. They are all free to seek asylum in France, but have decided not to do so. Indeed, there is an expectation under international agreements that asylum seekers should apply for asylum in the first safe country they come to, but they are not doing that. If they don’t want to risk going to Rwanda, they have the option of not leaving France to enter the UK illegally.
All Governments around the world have a right and a duty to control their borders, and decide who can live there. Voters overwhelmingly expect this. It should be governments, not people smugglers, which decide who can live in a country. It is expensive to employ people smugglers, and those who do so are generally not the most desperate and vulnerable people around the world, who do not have the money to do so.
The English Channel is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, and crossing it in small boats is incredibly dangerous. We have already seen tragic accidents with large losses of life. I am sure we can agree that it is not humanitarian having tens of thousands of people paying people smugglers to risk their lives to come to the UK.
The approach of the UK Government is to clamp down on illegal immigration while facilitating legal migration for the world’s most desperate and deserving. We have active legal migration routes for refugees from Syrian camps; for those persecuted by the Taliban in Afghanistan; for people in Hong Kong who are BNOs; and now for those seeking shelter from Ukraine. Around 100,000 visas have now been issued to people from Hong Kong since the Chinese clamp down. All these routes are in addition to existing labour migration and asylum routes. All of them involve legal migration where the UK Government decides who has the right to live in the UK and who doesn’t. They do not involve people smugglers or refugees having to risk their lives in small boats. The UK can be genuinely proud of its track record, historic and recent, of offering sanctuary to people from around the world.
The question then is what the UK does about illegal migration, and in particular the rapid growth in Channel crossings in small boats. Successive UK governments (Conservative, coalition and Labour) have tried to get the French government more engaged in stopping people leaving the French coast in the first place, but with decidedly mixed results. More recently, co-operation from the French government has been lacking. It is often not possible to return people who have arrived illegally in the UK and not been successful in claiming asylum, because their home countries either will not accept them or cannot be identified.
Hence, as a last resort, the UK government has now entered the world’s first Migration and Economic Development Partnership with Rwanda. This offshore processing was actually first proposed by Tony Blair when he was prime minister. Under the partnership, people who enter the UK illegally, including by small boat across the Channel, may have their asylum claim considered in Rwanda rather than in the UK, with a view to receiving the protection they need in Rwanda if their claim is granted. It only applies to young men, who are generally considered much more likely to be economic migrants compared to women and children. The aim is to break the business model of the people smugglers – if they can no longer sell a future in the UK, then people will not pay them. We know from the Australian experience that making it impossible for people smugglers to succeed means that the numbers willing to pay them falls dramatically. Hopefully, that would happen in this case, and very few people would ever need to be sent to Rwanda. Success of this scheme would be that no-one is sent to Rwanda because illegal channel crossings have stopped.
The UK is investing £120 million into the economic development and growth of Rwanda, with funding also provided to support the delivery of asylum operations, accommodation and integration, similar to the costs incurred in the UK for these services. Furthermore, it is the case that Rwanda has one of the fastest-growing economies and enterprise cultures, with growing trade links with the UK.
These new measures, combined with the reforms to the asylum system and the changes to our laws in the Nationality and Borders Bill, will help deter illegal entry into the UK. In doing so it will help break the business model of the criminal smuggling gangs, protect the lives of those they endanger, ensure continued support for the truly vulnerable, and enhance our ability to remove those with no right to be in the UK.
The Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions Bill will be brought forward to ban universities and local councils from organising boycotts, sanctions and disinvestment against other countries. Foreign policy is rightly the reserve of national government. I believe that local councils should have a responsibility to secure long-term returns from their investment on behalf of all their residents, rather than dividing communities and using their investments to pursue their own foreign policy.
On the issue of Israel, clearly the UK is a close friend of the country, and we enjoy an excellent bilateral relationship, built on decades of cooperation between our two nations across a range of fields. However, the UK’s position on the settlements is clear. They are illegal under international law, present an obstacle to peace, and threaten the physical viability of a two-state solution. The UK regularly raises its concerns on this issue with the Israeli authorities and urges them to reverse their policy of settlement expansion. However, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is deeply complex: settlements are not the only obstacle to peace. The people of Israel deserve to live free from the scourge of terrorism and antisemitic incitement, which gravely undermine the prospects for a two-state solution.
While the UK should not hesitate to express disagreement with Israel wherever necessary, I know ministers believe that imposing sanctions on Israel or supporting anti-Israeli boycotts would not support efforts to progress the peace process and achieve a negotiated solution. Imposing local level boycotts can damage integration and community cohesion within the United Kingdom, hinder Britain’s export trade, and harm foreign relations to the detriment of Britain’s economic and international security.
I appreciate the concerns you have about Masafer Yatta and was sorry to learn of the difficult experience residents are facing.
My ministerial colleagues at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office continue to raise with their Israeli counterparts concerns about settler violence and the importance of the Israel security forces providing appropriate protection to the Palestinian civilian population.
HM Government is clear that Israeli settlements cause unnecessary suffering to Palestinians, call into question Israel's commitment to a viable two-state solution, and, in all but the most exceptional of cases, are contrary to International Law. I join ministers in calling for their expansion to cease with immediate and permanent effect.
British Embassy in Israel
The position of the UK Government has remained constant since April 1950, when the UK extended de jure recognition to the State of Israel, but withheld recognition of sovereignty over Jerusalem pending a final determination of its status.
The UK recognises Israel’s de facto authority over West Jerusalem, but, in line with UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 242 (1967) and subsequent UNSC resolutions, regards East Jerusalem as under Israeli occupation. A final determination of the status of Jerusalem should be sought as part of a negotiated settlement between Israelis and Palestinians. It must ensure Jerusalem is a shared capital of the Israeli and Palestinian states, with access and religious rights of both peoples respected.
The British Embassy to Israel is based in Tel Aviv and there are no plans to move it before, or in the absence of, such a settlement
Arms Exports to Israel
Her Majesty's Government takes its export control responsibilities extremely seriously and operates one of the most robust export control regimes in the world. All export licence applications are rigorously assessed on a case-by-case basis against the Strategic Export Licensing Criteria, based on the most up-to-date information and analysis available, including advice received from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Ministry of Defence, and other government departments and agencies as appropriate.
Licence decisions take account of prevailing circumstances at the time of application and include human rights and international humanitarian law considerations. The Government will not issue export licences where to do so would be inconsistent with the criteria, including where there is a clear risk that the arms might be used for internal repression or in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law.
Ministers continue to monitor the situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories closely, and will take action to suspend, refuse or revoke licences – in line with the criteria – if circumstances require.
The UK is a longstanding champion of media freedom globally. As someone who was a journalist for 20 years, including reporting from war zones, this issues are very important for me. The work of journalists across the world is vital and it is essential that they are protected in order to carry out their work. I join my ministerial colleagues from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in urging for a rapid and thorough investigation.
Ministers are concerned by ongoing tensions in Israel and across the West Bank and are encouraging all parties to work to de-escalate the situation and avoid provocation. I am further assured that British officials in our Embassy in Tel Aviv and our Consulate General in Jerusalem have been engaging with the Israeli and Palestinian leadership to support them in restoring calm.
International Treaty for Pandemic Preparedness
The COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the greatest challenges to the established international order since the Second World War; a global threat that has required global solutions borne out of global cooperation. It has been immensely heartening to have seen the peoples and nations of the world pull together as they have.
In the late 1940s, to avert a repeat of the war, world leaders came together to establish the multilateral system we have today. I think it is reasonably fair to argue that a similar effort is required on the part of world leaders to strengthen preparedness for potential future pandemics.
As such, I welcome the suggestion of the Prime Minister, writing with other world leaders last year, that the international community should commit to producing a new international treaty for pandemic preparedness and response. Such a treaty would aim to foster greatly enhanced cooperation in future pandemics, by further embedding the principles of shared responsibility and transparency into the multilateral system and through material improvements to global alert systems, data-sharing, research, production and distribution of medical technologies, such as vaccines.
Discussions are ongoing at the World Health Organisation to this end. The UK Government will engage with any such proposals, including at the World Health Assembly in May, with a view to a final outcome that learns the lessons of COVID-19.
I await the details with interest. I completely agree with the general point that it cannot infringe on a Government’s right to act in its national interest, or of the sovereignty that each of us have over our bodies. Clearly, all individuals must retain their full rights over their bodies, and as part of that vaccinations have to remain voluntary.
The Home Secretary is required by the UK Borders Act 2007 (brought in under the last Labour government) to deport any foreign national who has received a custodial sentence of at least 12 months and those convicted of serious crimes, are persistent offenders or who represent a threat to national security, unless a specified exception applies. It is worth remembering these are serious criminals, and the wider public also have rights to be protected from them.
It is also the case that the UK only deports those whom the Home Office or courts, when a legal claim is raised, are satisfied do not need protection and have no legal basis to remain in the UK. I welcome the fact that every individual who meets the threshold for deportation is given access to legal advice and support and importantly has an opportunity to challenge their removal through the legal system.
The UK is one of the few countries in the world providing support to help people re-integrate upon their return. For example, the Home Office supports two non-governmental organisations in Jamaica who provide re-integration support to those who are deported. They provide initial support to those who may not have anyone to meet them at the airport or who need transport. They are also able to help with short-term accommodation for those without a place to stay. In the longer term, they can provide training, including recognised qualifications, to enable individuals to find employment and help with obtaining documentation.
Guidance on Boycotts
There are strong views on this issue, and I appreciate that my position will not please everyone. The UK is a close friend of Israel and we enjoy an excellent bilateral relationship, built on decades of cooperation between our two countries across a range of fields.
The UK’s position on settlements is clear. They are illegal under international law, present an obstacle to peace, and threaten the physical viability of a two-state solution. The UK regularly raises its concerns on this issue with the Israeli authorities and urges them to reverse their policy of settlement expansion. However, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is deeply complex: settlements are not the only obstacle to peace. The people of Israel deserve to live free from the scourge of terrorism and antisemitic incitement, which gravely undermine the prospects for a two-state solution.
While the UK should not hesitate to express disagreement with Israel wherever necessary, I know ministers believe that imposing sanctions on Israel or supporting anti-Israeli boycotts would not support efforts to progress the peace process and achieve a negotiated solution. I agree. Imposing local level boycotts can damage integration and community cohesion within the United Kingdom, hinder Britain’s export trade, and harm foreign relations to the detriment of Britain’s economic and international security.
I welcome plans to bring forward legislation to ban universities and local councils from organising boycotts, sanctions and disinvestment against other countries. Foreign policy is rightly the reserve of national government. I believe that councils should prioritise securing long-term returns from their investment rather than dividing communities and making political statements. It cannot be right for councils to have the power to make divisive decisions which set different parts of the community against each other.
Human trafficking and modern slavery are abhorrent crimes. The Government is committed to ending this terrible crime, having legislated for the first Modern Slavery Act in Europe in 2015. As you will be aware, the Government also established the National Referral Mechanism to identify and refer potential victims of modern slavery and ensure they receive appropriate support. Unfortunately, some illegal migrants and Foreign National Offenders do take advantage of the system and seek these referrals in order to avoid immigration detention, frustrating their removal from the UK.
This is why I support a thorough system in order to determine if a case is genuine. The Home Office has published its New Plan for Immigration which sets out landmark measures to support the victims of modern slavery. A key element of this plan is to ensure that these victims have the support they need to engage in the criminal justice system to ensure the perpetrators are rightly prosecuted. The new policies ensure that victims are provided with specific mental health support to aid their recovery from their traumatic experiences. For the first time in primary legislation, the Nationality and Borders Bill will set out the circumstances in which confirmed victims will receive temporary leave to remain. This approach provides victims and decision makers clarity as to entitlement, in line with the UK’s international obligations. Crucially, this includes providing clarity that temporary leave to remain will be provided for any length of time necessary to enable victims to engage with authorities to help to bring their exploiters to justice. It is, however, right that the system is protected from abuse.
I therefore welcome the Home Office's decision to put the current statutory guidance related to protection from removal for potential victims of modern slavery on a legislative footing. This will set out where the recovery period (during which time potential victims can access support) and protection from removal may be withheld, specifically on the grounds of public order, improper claims and multiple recovery periods – in specific circumstances. Of course, it is right that victims of Modern slavery should be entitled to certain protections and support to enable their recovery. Any decision to withhold protections from an individual will be balanced with the priority to safeguard vulnerable victims.
Following an urgent review of the UK's development activities in Myanmar, new safeguards are now in place to prevent UK aid from indirectly supporting the military regime. Support for government led reforms has been axed and planned programmes will close. I am reassured that the UK is working on further measures to ensure that aid can still – and only – reach the most vulnerable people in Myanmar.
The UK has repeatedly demanded that the military allow unfettered access to humanitarian aid in order satisfy the critical needs of vulnerable populations, including in a Joint Statement of the Foreign Ministers of the G7 in May 2021.
The UK has imposed sanctions, most recently on 31 January, against senior members of the military regime in Myanmar in response to the coup and gross violations of human rights. These sanctions stop these individuals from travelling to the UK, and prevent businesses and institutions from dealing with their funds or economic resources in this country.
Along with the State Administration Council, the junta’s governing body, the UK has also sanctioned many of its economic interests, including:
Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd
Myanmar Economic Corporation
Myanmar Gems Enterprise
Myanmar Timber Enterprise
Myanmar Pearl Enterprise
By sanctioning these entities, the UK is cutting off key revenue streams used to finance brutal human rights violations and the repression of the civilian population. These sanctions send a clear message that the UK will not allow financial support that props up the illegitimate military regime.
Finally, the UK has sanctioned key military components of the regime, all of which are complicit in the repression of the people of Myanmar, including the:
Quarter Master General’s Office, which procures equipment for the military;
Directorate for Defence Industries, which manufactures arms for the military;
Directorate for Defence Procurement, which procures arms abroad for the military; and
Myanmar War Veterans Organisation, a quasi-reserve force for the military.
Israel: Amnesty International Report
I appreciate your concerns and can assure you that my ministerial colleagues are aware of the issues raised in the report. Indeed, Israel and the OPTs are a human rights priority for the UK. As befits this, the UK repeatedly calls on Israel to abide by its obligations under international law and has a regular dialogue with Israel on issues relating to the occupation.
The UK's position, which I support, is clear and longstanding. There should be a negotiated settlement leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state, based on 1967 borders with agreed land swaps, Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states, and a fair and realistic settlement for refugees. HM Government consistently calls – both bilaterally and via the UN – for an immediate end to all actions that undermine the viability of the two-state solution. This includes many of those raised in the report in question.
The UK remains committed to a just peace between a stable, democratic Palestinian State and Israel, and will continue to do all it can to bring about a more peaceful future for Israelis and Palestinians alike.
The UK is a close friend of Israel and we enjoy an excellent bilateral relationship, built on decades of cooperation between our two countries across a range of fields. It is not only the world’s only Jewish state, but the only democracy in the Middle East.
While the UK should not hesitate to express disagreement with Israel wherever necessary, the Government believe that imposing sanctions on Israel or supporting anti-Israeli boycotts would not support efforts to progress the peace process and achieve a negotiated solution. Imposing local level boycotts can damage integration and community cohesion within the United Kingdom, hinder Britain’s export trade, and harm foreign relations to the detriment of Britain’s economic and international security.
I welcome plans to bring forward legislation to ban universities and local councils from organising boycotts, sanctions and disinvestment against other countries. Foreign policy is rightly the reserve of national government. Local councils should prioritise securing long-term returns from their investment rather than dividing communities and making political statements. It cannot be right for councils to have the power to make divisive decisions which set different parts of the community against each other.
The response I am looking for is not here
We do endeavour to publish responses to campaign emails and national policy queries in good time, but sometimes a change in circumstance may cause a short delay. We also review our policy responses at the end of each month, so please do check back then for a further update.