The UK has a proud tradition of providing a place of safety for genuine refugees. However, we are determined to refuse protection to those who do not need it, and we will take steps to remove those who have no valid grounds to stay here. (UKBA, 2012)
This is an excerpt from the UKBA’s introductory page to ‘Claiming Asylum in the UK.’ In their own words, the UK only protects those it considers to be ‘genuine’ refugees; supposedly, this is how we have formulated our ‘proud tradition’ of providing sanctuary to thousands of people fleeing persecution and prejudice. Today, however, the Equality and Human Rights Commission published their review of human rights in the UK. Whilst there were some complements, the criticisms were far more revealing.
Human rights, by their very nature, are applicable to everyone regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, wealth, or any other ‘variable.’ It is not hard to see how this often does not translate into practice. The EHRC highlighted a multitude of marginalised groups in the UK who – due to what can only be described as difference – have limited access to supposedly ‘universal’ human rights. Some of the main groups noted by the EHRC were illegal immigrants, suspected terrorists and gypsy and traveller communities.
According to their report, “Immigration procedures can favour administrative convenience over safeguarding individuals’ rights to liberty and security. Periods in detention can be unlawful if release or removal is not imminent.” Much of the criticism focuses on the new ‘Fast Track’ asylum application system, highlighting that the current process makes detention more of a frequent choice for the UKBA rather than a last resort.
Equally, the UK is criticised for not following its own procedures when it comes to safeguarding the mental health and wellbeing of individuals in detention:
Detention can also have a detrimental impact on a detainee’s mental and physical health […] The UK government does not always follow its own procedures around assessing and removing people who are particularly vulnerable, such as survivors of torture and people with serious mental illness which risks breaching Article 5 for unlawful detention.
Many NGOs, voluntary organisations and the UNCHR hold the fast track procedure responsible for the unnecessary and harmful detention of vulnerable individuals. Exacerbating this, the report continues to reveal that Immigration Removal Centres provide inadequate mental health support for detainees.
Another group who fail to be eligible for certain human rights in the UK are gypsy and traveller communities. Their right to family life is under threat from local authorities’ unwillingness to provide legalised sites for travelling communities. Due to their supposedly ‘non-conformist’ attitude to bricks-and-mortar housing, they are not afforded the same access to ‘universal’ human rights.
As only two salient points in a selection of ten areas for improvement, it is worth reading the whole report to see the full picture of the UK’s somewhat shaky commitment to human rights in the twenty-first century. It seems that much like the UKBA, the government’s general attempts to protect are more often than not undermined by a viciously hardline attitude to those who are supposedly ‘exploiting the system.’ This ‘genuine’ vs ‘bogus’ technique can be seen across all manner of government rhetoric, from JSA (Jobseekers’ Allowance) to the asylum system. What the coalition must remember is that access to human rights cannot be dictated or directed by political ideology; the universal cannot become the particular.