By JILL LAWLESS
LONDON (AP) — Britain’s immigration minister argued Tuesday that international refugee rules must be rewritten to reduce the number of people entitled to protection, as the Conservative government seeks international support for its tough stance on unauthorized migration.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman said people who faced discrimination for their gender or sexuality should not be granted asylum unless they were “fleeing a real risk of death, torture, oppression or violence.”
“Where individuals are being persecuted, it is right that we offer sanctuary,” Braverman told an audience in Washington. “But we will not be able to sustain an asylum system if in effect, simply being gay, or a woman, or fearful of discrimination in your country of origin, is sufficient to qualify for protection.”
Braverman said that the bar for asylum claims had been lowered over the decades since the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention. She questioned whether “well-intentioned legal conventions and treaties” from decades ago are “fit for our modern age” of jet travel, smartphones and the internet.
In a speech to conservative think-tank the American Enterprise Institute, Braverman called for changes to rules to prevent asylum-seekers traveling through “multiple safe countries … while they pick their preferred destination.” She said such migrants should “cease to be treated as refugees” once they leave the first safe country they come to.
“We are living in a new world bound by outdated legal models,” she said, calling uncontrolled and irregular migration “an existential challenge” to the West.
Braverman, a Cambridge-educated lawyer, is a figurehead of the right wing of the governing Conservatives, seen by some as a potential future leader if the party loses the next national election, as polls suggest is likely.
Britain’s government has adopted an increasingly punitive approach to people who arrive by unauthorized means such as small boats across the English Channel. More than 45,000 people arrived in Britain by boat from northern France in 2022, up from 28,000 in 2021 and 8,500 in 2020.
Braverman argued that the arrivals are straining Britain’s public finances and housing supply, and bring “threats to public safety” because of “heightened levels of criminality connected to some small boat arrivals.” Critics accuse Braverman of vilifying migrants with such comments.
Refugee and human rights groups criticized Braverman’s latest speech. Sonya Sceats, chief executive of campaign group Freedom from Torture, said: “LGBTQI+ people are tortured in many countries for who they are and who they love. … For a liberal democracy like Britain to try to weaken protection for this community is shameful.”
Braverman spoke during a working visit to the U.S. capital, where she is scheduled to discuss migration, international crime and security issues with U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas and Attorney General Merrick Garland.
The U.K. has sought international allies in its attempts to stop Channel crossings and toughen refugee laws, with limited success.
The U.K. government has passed a law calling for small-boat migrants to be detained and then deported permanently to their home nation or third countries. The only third country that has agreed to take them is Rwanda, and no one has yet been sent there as that plan is being challenged in the U.K. courts.
British authorities also leased a barge to house migrants in a floating dormitory moored off England’s south coast. The first migrants arrived last month, and almost immediately had to be moved out after the deadly bacteria that causes legionnaires’ disease was found in the vessel’s water system.