Reporter 459, 20 November 2000

Asylum law ‘breaches human rights’

British law and practice relating to asylum seekers is almost certainly violating international human rights legislation, the University's new professor of constitutional and human rights law, Colin Harvey, has warned.

Whichever party wins the next General Election will face an urgent need to overhaul the UK’s asylum system, he added.

Social exclusion: Professor Colin Harvey argues that the voucher system of paying benefits discriminates against destitute asylum seekers

The controversial requirement that asylum seekers meet their basic living needs by exchanging vouchers for food in designated supermarkets is one area where Professor Harvey believes a conflict exists with the UK’s commitments under domestic and international human rights law.

"It creates a form of social exclusion and robs the individual of dignity," he said. "Other aspects of the support system for refugees are equally worrying. The policy of dispersal can deprive people of adequate legal help, health care and language support.

"Destitute asylum seekers are being subjected to an experiment which treats them differently from citizens – even though the Human Rights Act, which came into force last month, contains rights which apply to everyone present in the UK."

Professor Harvey’s new book, Seeking Asylum in the UK: problems and prospects (Butterworth) provides the first thorough account of how this politically-charged area of law and policy has taken shape.

He argues that the UK, and much of the rest of the EU, have based their responses to forced migration on ‘discourses of exclusion, restriction and deterrence’ at the expense of their humanitarian obligations.

"Both Labour and Conservative governments have failed to make asylum law and policy work fairly. The system is a shambles and an atmosphere of hostility has been created in which the full humanity of the displaced is lost from view," he said.

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