LEICESTER, United Kingdom — A proposal by the UK Home Secretary to tighten refugee admissions in Western countries is “appalling,” according to the head of the Jesuit Refugee Service UK, one of Great Britain’s leading agencies serving refugees and other forcible displaced persons.
UK official Suella Braverman suggested scrapping a UN agreement of refugees adopted in the wake of the Second World War in a keynote address at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in the United States on Tuesday.
“Just as it is a basic rule of history that nations which cannot defend their borders will not long survive, it is a basic rule of politics that political systems which cannot control their borders will not maintain the consent of the people, and thus not long endure,” Braverman said in Washington, DC, calling immigration pressures “an existential challenge for the political and cultural institutions of the West.”
Braverman said the threshold for asylum has been steadily lowered since the UN Refugee Convention was ratified more than 70 years ago, in 1951, and questioned whether it was “fit for our modern age.”
Sarah Teather, the director of the Jesuit Refugee Service UK, said the convention “is a vital and core mechanism to protect people fleeing persecution, and it is badly needed, now as much and more than ever.”
“To suggest that many of those to whom it has extended protection for decades should be shut out and cast back into danger is appalling,” Teather said Tuesday.
“The government should work to extend protection to those who need it, not to find new ways to deny sanctuary. These comments from the Home Secretary are the latest in a cruel, vaunting attack on refugees,” she continued.
Teather also questioned why a British politician chose to give her speech to a U.S. policy group.
“One is left to wonder who the Home Secretary is trying to court with this international speech? Is her focus political and aimed at her own party? If so, she is recklessly giving comfort to dictators and tyrannical regimes on the world stage for vain purposes,” Teather said.
In her speech in Washington, Braverman claimed the current global asylum framework “is a promissory note that the West cannot fulfil.”
“We have created a system of almost infinite supply, incentivizing millions of people to try their luck, knowing full well that we have no capacity to meet more than a fraction of demand,” the government minister said.
Teather responded by mentioning Pope Francis’s recent message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees.
“Pope Francis renewed his call for the practice of ‘good politics – one that is transparent, honest, farsighted and at the service of all, especially those most vulnerable’; these actions from the Home Secretary today are anything but,” the JRS UK head said.
“Where people are forcibly displaced from their homes, we have a human duty to work together to seek solutions. Trying to draw others into a coordinated attack on those in need is a new low,” she concluded.
In her speech, Braverman said she supported immigration – being the daughter of immigrants – but added “uncontrolled migration” threatens national security and the country’s culture. Braverman’s parents are of Indian origin, who immigrated to Britain in the 1960s from Africa.
“If cultural change is too rapid and too big, then what was already there is diluted — eventually it will disappear,” she said.
“We are living with the consequence of that failure today. You can see it play out on the streets of cities all over Europe. From Malmo, to Paris, Brussels, to Leicester,” she added.
Leicester is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in England, and the government official was referring to a recent flareup between Muslims and Hindus in the city. Historically, the city has been a model for immigrants in the UK, and the rare violence troubled the community.
The UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, responded to Braverman’s speech by saying the decades-old convention “remains as relevant today as when it was adopted in providing an indispensable framework for addressing those challenges, based on international co-operation.”
The UN agency said the present need “is not for reform, or more restrictive interpretation, but for stronger and more consistent application of the convention and its underlying principle of responsibility-sharing.”