What About Our Human Rights?
For years, Sir Andrew Green says, Britain has allowed dangerous men to stay here as asylum seekers. There is only one way to end this madness – to withdraw from the Convention on Human Rights.
By Sir Andrew Green, Chairman, Migration Watch UK
The Daily Mail, London, 27July, 2005
The news that two of the men who tried to set off a bomb in London last week came to Britain as the dependants of an asylum seekers turns the spotlight once more on this country's asylum system.
It has been known for some time that a number of those arrested on suspicion under the anti-terrorist laws have been asylum seekers. Others have used their status to spread messages of hate.
I know that Middle East governments have been warning us for ten years that many of those seeking asylum in Britain were far more dangerous than we realised. Yet a feeble approach to asylum has been allowed to persist for over a decade.
The case of Mohammed al Masari (the leader of a Saudi opposition movement who fled here in the mid-Nineties) illustrates the point. Only last night, he appeared on our television screens, singing the praises of suicide bombers while also publishing their hideous propaganda on his web-site.
Ingeniously, he called his movement the 'Committee for the Defence of Legitimate Rights'. It sounded like some kind of human rights organisation, but in truth, was very far from it.
As the head of the Middle East Command in the Foreign Office at the time, one of my tasks was to ensure Masari's removal from Britain. For he was not just seeking sanctuary here but using this country as a base for his efforts to overthrow the Saudi Government.
I failed completely, despite the support of the Prime Minister at the time, as the asylum system and its endless appeals lumbered into action.
The case of Masari was not alone. The governments of Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and India warned us that we were giving shelter to very dangerous men. However, we were thoroughly complacent, saying that these people were free to do as they wished but if they broke the law, they would be prosecuted.
It can hardly be a surprise that, seeing such prominent Islamist activists getting away with it, others should follow.
'Londonistan' was born.
The answer now must be a fundamental review of the asylum system. Perhaps you hear the clang of a stable door slamming shut? But that is defeatism. The vicious attacks of 7/7 have transformed the whole scene.
Obviously, no amount of asylum reform will tackle the home-grown bombers and fanatics who we now find in our midst. But we can address the ease with which foreign activists, even terrorists, can exploit our asylum system and our human rights legislation.
The fundamental problem is the fact that the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees is hopelessly out of date. Designed during the Cold War to allow a few dozen refugees flee from behind the Iron Curtain, its authors would be absolutely astounded to learn that, a generation later, hundreds of thousands of people were taking advantage of it every year.
'Taking advantage' is the right expression. Last week, the National Audit Office, the Government's watchdog, reported that up to 283,000 applicants whose cases had failed, had not been removed from Britain. Even this huge number omitted dependents - adding those would bring the total to over a third of a million.
But when, before the General Election, MigrationWatch published an estimate of a quarter of a million, the Government claimed we were exaggerating. Yet again, ministers were in denial.
The Government's response to this chaos is the usual set of half measures. The Nationality, Asylum & Immigration Bill now going through Parliament is the sixth in 12 years. Its contents are sensible enough but it is just tinkering.
These days, most asylum-seekers destroy their documents in order to make their removal more difficult. Such action has now been made a crime but there have been very few prosecutions and it does not, as it should, disqualify offenders from asylum because the 1951 Convention does not permit it.
Similarly, people who have been in Britain illegally for years can claim asylum when they are eventually discovered. They can even claim asylum after they have been convicted of a criminal offence.
What's more, our courts offer layers of opportunities for asylum seekers to appeal (now at last being reduced) and which enable them and their lawyers to spin out cases for years. And if all that fails, they can always go to ground.
Meanwhile, the removals system cannot keep up. Over the past seven years, anyone who has arrived in Britain and uttered the word 'asylum' has had an 85 per cent chance of staying in Britain - more often than not illegally.
A recent Home Office report admitted that the illegal population was approaching half a million - probably an under-estimate.
The truth is that we have a perfect right to withdraw from the 1951 Convention and write our own laws. We would still continue to provide asylum in genuine cases but we would close the loop-holes and accelerate the whole process.
Of course, the asylum lobby will claim that this would undermine the international system for refugees and would weaken the willingness of Third World countries to accept them.
Nonsense. We would be doing a service by setting up a viable system. Also, we would be helping to deal with those refugees fleeing across Third World borders by letting them remain in a more familiar environment and be more able and willing to return home when conditions improve.
For example, more than a million Afghans have now returned home from Pakistan. From Britain, despite extensive inducements, the number returning is nearer 40 out of 40,000.Instead, we spend almost £2,000 million a year putting asylum seekers in tower blocks and sitting them in front of television sets.
The second major reform must be a move towards detention for all asylum seekers while their cases are being considered. This would have to be introduced gradually as the number of applicants came down and as detention facilities became available. There would be no need for barbed wire.
Once we were out of the 1951 Convention, we could ensure that anyone who left the location to which they were sent would automatically refused asylum and would be deported immediately upon detection, with no right of appeal.
If they were genuine cases, they would have remained in place. If not, they would have deserved deportation.
The third step must be to re-write our human rights legislation to draw a necessary distinction between our own citizens and foreign citizens. It is no longer sensible or practicable to accord the full panoply of human rights to everyone who sets foot on our soil.
For example, we should state publicly that from a certain date, anyone convicted of terrorist offences would be liable to immediate deportation to their home state without further right of appeal. That would be a serious disincentive to foreign terrorists thinking of basing themselves, or operating here.
At present, they can be confident that the penalty might only be a slap on the wrist and a tag round their ankle. In future, they would have been warned and would have nobody else to blame.
To achieve this, we would have to withdraw, at least temporarily, from the European Convention on Human Rights which now ties our hands. This country must write our its laws to meet our its needs. British people also have human rights, including the right to life.
Expect the usual shock and horror from the asylum lobby. But they have had it all their own way for far too long. For years, they have been complicit in a failing system.
It is a system that is both failing genuine refugees who find themselves caught up in a maul of others shipped in by people smugglers and also failing the security requirements which stem from the very serious threats which we now face.
The time for platitudes is past. Serious and radical action is essential.
Sir Andrew Green is a former British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Syria.
© Copyright of Sir Andrew Green
The Daily Mail, London, 27July, 2005