Priti Patel has called the asylum system “fundamentally broken” and has promised new laws to deny asylum to those using illegal routes into the UK, that have caused dismay among human rights groups.
About 7,000 people, many cases fleeing persecution, have arrived in Britain this year after risking their lives in small boats to cross the Channel.
Speaking at the Conservative party conference, the home secretary said she would bring in legislation next year to stop “endless legal claims” from refused asylum seekers and was willing to face “being unpopular on Twitter” in order to bring claims down.
The Home Office is already facing questions over leaks exposing potential draconian measures to transport asylum seekers thousands of miles away to the Ascension Island or Papua New Guinea.
Patel said the new system would be “firm but fair” and mean swifter acceptance for asylum seekers who came using legal routes, with 40,000 people awaiting decisions under the current system. Almost half are forced to wait a year or more.
Minnie Rahman, public affairs and campaign manager at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said: “Patel’s speech shows a determination to make things worse, not better, by focusing on getting as many people as possible out of the UK as fast as possible.
“What she should be focusing on are the workable solutions already presented to her many times over: policymaking based on evidence and grounded in the rule of law; an overhaul of Home Office systems and training to eradicate racism; and more safe legal routes to claim asylum so that people do not risk death in their quest to reach safety.”
In her speech, Patel claimed the system would be “fair and compassionate towards those who need our help”.
“Fair by welcoming people through safe and legal routes,” she said. “But firm because we will stop the abuse of the broken system.
“Firm, because we will stop those who come here illegally making endless legal claims to remain. And firm, because we will expedite the removal of those who have no claim for protection.”
Amnesty International said Britain’s current asylum policy was poor in terms of protecting the most vulnerable compared to other nations in Europe.
Kate Allen, Amnesty UK’s director, said: “It’s clear that either the home secretary does not understand her own asylum system or she is simply determined to shirk even more responsibility for providing protection to people.
“The facts are most women, men and children receiving asylum here are the very people she wishes to deprive of that in future – by preventing them getting here or taking away the legal rights.
“And it is shameless for her to imply the UK has some exemplary record in providing sanctuary.
“Many of this country’s European neighbours – several poorer and less stable countries further away – continue to do hugely more than the UK in providing a home to people forced to flee tyranny, torture and war.”
Patel suggested the government expected to hear legal challenges on the new approach, saying that those “well-rehearsed in how to play and profit from the broken system will lecture us on their grand theories about human rights”.
“If at times it means being unpopular on Twitter. I will bear it,” she added.
Click here for a secure way to sign up, you will be supporting independent news. Click the button below.
Disagree with this article? why not write in and you can have your say? email us