In the first issue of The Sunday Roast in 2019, we review the claims made by the Home Secretary Sajid Javid on the recent reported rise in asylum seekers crossing the English Channel. Javid has defended his approach, but are his claims correct?
The festive season is characterised by compassion, celebration, and getting sloshed on Mum’s orange-flavoured Baileys. This spirit lasts for so long that when the UK returned to their jobs on Wednesday, as usual, many forgot which day of the week they had rolled into work. It’s a natural effect of the December twilight; losing all spatial awareness either through joy or intake of leftover Christmas foodstuffs.
Personally, I found myself so relieved when the Home Secretary Sajid Javid hurried home from a safari in South Africa to handle what he has called, ‘a major incident’. I put down my week-old yule log and lauded his noble sacrifice.
If British politics were more stable, I doubt whether the Home Secretary would have abandoned his jeep and walked towards the lions. As the Conservative Party is slyly preparing for a leadership contest as soon as Theresa May shuffles off the dance-floor, all eyes are on those Tories with eyes on the throne.
Sadly, Mr Javid’s power grab has proven to be most influential on desperate migrants crossing the English Channel. The wartime analogies have been furiously blasted onto news and social media, with the concept of ‘invasion’ being spread like parmesan cheese at an Italian restaurant. Michael White of The New European expertly evoked the atmosphere in a recent critical column.
Remarkably, the insidious language and xenophobia received a moderate opposition from across the political spectrum. Labour backbenchers were firm in their condemnation of Javid’s comments, led by Stella Creasy who recently received the tepid brunt of Suzanne Evans (former UKIP Deputy Chair) for defending asylum seekers.
In this political climate, which is to say hurricane season, the quieter voices are muffled by the rhetoric of hate and bigotry. Even my favourite Bennite bonehead Jeremy Corbyn keenly displayed his morals and voice for humanity. Sadly, Brexit has propelled this story into the stratosphere, and those who are seeking asylum and better life in Britain are on the receiving end of a serpent’s venom. Javid’s comments and ulterior posturing are characteristic of a Britain in crisis. Happy new year everyone, we’re only six days deep.
- Name: Sajid Javid.
- Job: Home Secretary, and MP for Bromsgrove since 2010.
- Political Party: Conservatives.
- 2016 EU-Ref Side: Remain.
- Voting Record: House of Commons.
- Affiliation: Devoted Thatcherite and noted Ayn Rand supporter.
- Claim: Arriving asylum seekers are not ‘genuine’ as they should seek residence in their initial safe country.
- Source: Widely reported interview published across news media, here on Sky News 02/01/19.
Whilst visiting border control operations in Dover, Sajid Javid was clear in his message to asylum seekers crossing the English Channel. Arguing that those seeking asylum should seek refuge in their “first safe country”, his comments have been widely criticised by human rights campaigners and legal experts. Dr Lisa Doyle of the leading advocacy charity Refugee Council responded to Javid’s claims in a statement shortly after the interview was published.
Doyle’s compassionate remarks have been echoed across the political divide, with politicians and campaigners regarding the language used to be acerbic. Chief executive of the independent charity Refugee Action, Stephen Hale, published an open letter to Sajid Javid detailing several ways in which changes to the current policies on asylum seekers should be made.
Undoubtedly, the language of politicians (particularly of the right-wing) is now more influential than ever in provoking wider social and political actions. Recent visible movements such as the ‘gilets jaunes’ have spilt over into wider and often violent protests which express populist arguments, including anti-migration. Yesterday in London, a far-right protest descended into violence with smoke bombs and fights with police.
The video footage out of far-right protests is shocking and indicative of a current climate of outrage and conspiracy. Javid’s comments are symptomatic of this climate, particularly as the Home Secretary voiced suspicions rather than promoting legitimate policy. Legal experts and lawyers have also rightly condemned the language and arguments used by Javid.
The status of refugees and asylum seekers has been embedded in international law since 1948 after the establishment of the universally accepted Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In particular, Article 14 expressly states that every person has the right to seek asylum.
This landmark legal definition was followed by the creation of the UN Refugee Agency in 1951 which maintains that everyone is entitled to seek asylum from persecution and threats to freedom.
In the UK, this definition is ratified by the Human Rights Act 1998 which performs as an adjoined legislation to adopt the European Court of Human Rights’ legal authority in addition to national courts. The right to asylum is guaranteed by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which was adopted in 2000 and fully compliant with the ECHR.
The legal definition is irrefutable in how people can seek asylum from persecution and violence, including where that person chooses. Sajid Javid’s suspicions concern whether those crossing the channel are ‘genuine’ due to their travel through France. He comments that France cannot be denied to be a safe country, and therefore is the first point of asylum. However, the UNHCR summarised in 2004 that the ‘first country’ concept applies if the applicant is recognised as a refugee and/or maintains sufficient protections in said country. This includes the principle of non-refoulment which many British voices are asserting as a sovereign definition that has been breached.
Stella Creasy has been vocal in her condemnation of Sajid Javid’s actions, referencing human rights abuses and criminal actions in Calais. Creasy has been a leading voice in Parliament for the protection of human rights working alongside charities/NGOs, and has visited migrant camps in Calais. Yvette Cooper, as chair of the home affairs select committee has also called Javid’s legal opinion to be “arbitrary.”
Nick Mason of Free Movement, a legal blog website focusing on immigration law, wrote in 2017 of the legal definitions regarding refugee status, as well as honing in on the human aspect of what Javid has been arguing. Legal authority is a guiding principle, but as Mason rightly asks, “What would you do?”
Sajid Javid (or The Saj) is hotly tipped as a contender for the party leadership, and his comments are likely to be a ploy for publicity. A firm hand on immigration or ‘sending a strong message’, are classic tropes of the Tory take on Lady Macbeth. The comic actor Rowan Atkinson perfectly impersonated this familiar approach in the vastly underrated Not the Nine O’Clock News back in the early 1980s.
The migrant crisis has certainly enflamed opinion, and this slight spike in prominence has arrived at a tempestuous time. Human rights and the universal concept of a safe home should not be political ammunition.
Tomorrow begins the next stage in Parliament’s take on the Big Brother House, where Jacob Rees-Mogg is sat in a hot tub with Kate Hoey, and the Prime Minister is still in the diary room. The next month will be a cavalcade of rumours and quotes about Brexit and its future.
I pray that those who risk their lives crossing the English Channel arrive to welcoming arms, and not the reactionary outrage to comments made by Sajid Javid.🔷
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(This is an original piece, first published by the author in PoliticsMeansPolitics.com)