We don’t yet know what will be the far reaching consequences of Brexit to both UK and EU nationals, will be. But for our friends living Calais, Dunkirk and other areas of Europe, who have a dream of finding stability and safety in the UK, their future is now, more than ever, uncertain.
The EU has shown itself to be no friend of Refugees in Europe this year. This year’s shocking EU-Turkey deal, is likely to be followed soon by proposals intending to stop refugees reaching Southern Europe. In order to do so, it is considering working with oppressive regimes in Sudan and Eritrea. Being apart from the EU, in this respect, is not a bad thing.
Therefore, maybe, just maybe, there will be some silver linings to Brexit. Perhaps the restriction of EU free movement may leave more “space” to accept Refugees fleeing war? Under a right wing Tory government, this remains doubtful.
Perhaps the UK will not be able to deport people to Southern and Eastern Europe, under the much feared and resented Dublin Regulations? This is just speculation. Since Norway and Switzerland are also party to the Dublin Regulations, it is likely that the UK will fight for their “right” to deport people who have been finger printed, or claimed asylum – with, or without, EU membership. The UK has used Dublin to deport over 12,000 people since 2003.
If Brexit does lead to a second Scottish independence referendum what would Scotland’s new policy towards refugees be? Currently the SNP has been very vocal in it’s criticism of Westminster’s policy on immigration and it’s treatment of Refugees. Under independence, would Scotland join the Shenghen and how different would the Scottish Governments asylum policies really be? How difficult would it be to get citizenship? How would it affect people already seeking asylum in Scotland or other parts of the UK?
Particularly noteworthy for Calais, the 2003 Le Touquet accord, which is a bilateral agreement between the UK and France which puts the UK border in France, will not, despite calls from many French politicians and the Mayor of Calais, be revoked. “On the question of immigration, to be clear, British exit from the European Union will not lead to changes in terms of immigration treaties with United Kingdom … These are bilateral treaties,” said the government spokesman and agriculture minister, Stéphane Le Foll.
The introduction of this agreement between the UK and France led to a fall in asylum applications in the UK, of 82,800 in 2002 to 30,800 in 2004.
The UK is still bound by laws relating to the protection of Refugees. It will is still party to the 1951 Refugee Convention. In 1951 the UN’s Refugee Convention laid out the process of claiming and granting asylum. This was followed by the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. The most critical aspect of these treaties is the duty of “non-refoulement” – a country can’t return refugees to a nation where they could be at risk. Every single European country, in or out of the EU, is a signatory to both accords.
The EU does impose extra obligations on its members, which are rarely enforced. It agreed to redistribute 160,000 migrants around the EU, and wants to impose fines on countries that don’t comply. The UK will probably not be bound by these extra obligations if it leaves the EU.
The UK’s withdrawal from the EU does not automatically affect the UK’s status as a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The ECHR is an international treaty distinct from the EU Treaties and EU Charter on Fundamental Rights.
For now, the European Convention on Human rights is protected by UK law through the Human Rights Act. British citizens are therefore still able to rely on their rights in the ECHR and can still take cases to the European Court of Human Rights. Refugees in the UK, for now, can also do this.
However, there are warnings that this may also change. The Conservative government wants to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a Bill of Rights. Several members of the cabinet have argued for leaving the European Court of Human Rights altogether (which is different from leaving the EU).
Despite the many flaws in EU policy on refugees, the BREXIT vote was won, to a large extent, on an anti-immigrant platform. The rational for leaving the EU presented by Nigel Farage, Boris Johnston, Theresa May and others was not to enable the UK to have fairer policy towards refugees. Their skepticism for the ECHR is based on the same principles that have made them campaign to leave the EU.
In these political hands, the future of the ECHR, but also the future of Refugees in the Scotland, England, Northern Ireland or Europe still remains painfully uncertain.