LONDON: Britain’s Home Secretary Suella Braverman warned on Tuesday uncontrolled migration poses an “existential challenge” to Western nations and called for the rewriting of a treaty which has influenced global asylum policy for the last seven decades.

Addressing the American Enterprise Institute think-tank in Washington, Braverman said the United Nations refugee convention has expanded the definition of “persecution” and increased the number of people qualifying for refugee protection.

Braverman, who is seen as a possible future leader of the governing Conservative Party, called for a global overhaul of the approach towards immigration, which is likely to be a key issue at Britain’s general election expected next year.

The United Nations 1951 convention — the legal foundation for the protection of refugees worldwide ratified by Britain and about 150 other countries — enshrines the principle that states that have signed up to the agreement must protect civilians fleeing conflict or persecution.

Braverman said case law arising from the convention has lowered the threshold so that asylum seekers need only prove that they face “discrimination” instead of a real risk of torture or violence.

“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.

The number of people who might qualify for asylum had reached “unsustainable” levels and “being gay, or a woman, and fearful of discrimination in your country of origin, is sufficient to qualify for protection”, she said.

The government says the UN convention has been one of the biggest legal barriers to dealing with people arriving in Britain in small boats and sending them either home or to so-called safe third countries such as Rwanda.

Stopping small boat arrivals across the Channel from France is a priority for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Almost 24,000 people have been detected crossing the Channel this year, despite Sunak’s promise to “stop the boats”.

Human rights campaigners, opposition politicians and even some members of her own party criticised Braverman’s speech.

Stewart McDonald, a member of parliament for the Scottish National Party, said she displayed “appalling, nasty and cruel instincts that are at odds with common decency”.

In her speech, Braverman said asylum seekers should be obliged to make a claim in the first safe country they reach.

“The vast majority have passed through multiple safe countries, and in some instances have resided in safe countries for several years,” Braverman said.

“We have created a system of almost infinite supply, incentivising millions of people to try their luck, knowing full well that we have no capacity to meet more than a fraction of demand.”

Published in Dawn, September 27th, 2023

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