The position of Refugees post Brexit

For many who voted for Brexit, the main reason given was immigration. Those people want to see a reduction in the number of immigrants in the UK. That than raises the question of what category of people is covered by the term “immigrants”? The term covers non EU nationals here to work or study on a variety of visas, EU nationals here because they are exercising rights under the EU Treaties and it also covers refugees seeking asylum for either political or economic reasons.

The laws governing people who have arrived in the UK seeking asylum come from UK domestic law and international law. The protections provided by the UN treaties and the European Convention on Human Rights (EHCR) will not change because of Brexit in itself. However, all EU states must sign up to the ECHR. It is possible that Brexit will provide reason enough to leave the EHCR, perhaps with something new to take its place.

CEAS (Common European Asylum System) is supposed to provide minimum reception standards (housing, etc). The UK has only engaged selectively with EU asylum law. And while the UK accepted the initial CEAS standards, it opted out of the enhanced protections in 2013 – claiming it would not be in “Britain’s best interests”.

The Dublin regulations – whereby you must claim asylum in the first EU country you go to – are part of EU law. The UK ‘benefits’ significantly from this (and Greece doesn’t), as many people will have had to pass through another EU country before they get here. Leaving the EU will mean the end of this. It could mean the people who reach here from, say Calais, can’t be sent back (or at least not as easily) to France.

Brexit will also mean no more access to the European Court of Justice. This Court has the power to rule on some asylum issues, and recently ruled that asylum seekers should be able to challenge their removal under the Dublin regulations, even if the country they are to be returned to has adequate reception facilities. In domestic law, governments of the last 6 years (and governments before them) have made the process of claiming asylum in the UK tougher. The new Immigration Act will remove from families with children any entitlement to housing or income if their claim is turned down.

The refugee issue has hitherto been much more of a problem for continental Europe, with the UK benefiting from being an island and being at the far end geographically of the long road travelled by the people. Brexit is in our view unlikely to see much change to the government’s stance on refugees, given it has largely been making its own decisions on how to deal with them.

Tom Redfern