First published in December 2020.

There is a lot in the news at the moment regarding deportations and some of it tends to get confusing and mixed up. Essentially there are three distinct issues at hand right now though:

  1. Deportation of asylum seekers;
  2. Deportation of rough sleepers;
  3. Deportation of foreign national offenders (FNOs).

Listening to Priti PatelCheck Voting Record 🗳️ and the Home Office you could be forgiven for thinking that these were all one and the same person though.

Deportation of asylum seekers.

As the UK nears the end of transition it is increasingly likely that what are known as the Dublin III Regulations will cease to apply, which makes it harder for the UK to remove asylum seekers to EU states.

Consider international refugee law as a pyramid. Right at the top you have the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the status of refugees. This is the primary instrument in determining refugee status and the rights of those granted it.

Beneath that, you have what are known as “regional refugee instruments”. There are a few around, including the Organisation of African Union Convention covering a number of African nations and the Cartagena Declaration, covering Latin America.

The one we are focused on here though is known as the Dublin III Regulations, and in particular how it relates to the UK. These regulations govern requirements of member states in processing asylum claims and were designed to “protect” the European Union’s external border.

Beneath the regional instruments you then have domestic legislation, and then at the foundation of the pyramid you have case law. Importantly, case law is determined by judges, and not as Priti Patel likes to try and make out activist leftie do-gooder lawyers.

Priti Patel, 4 October 2020.

At the end of the day though all the other levels are secondary, or ‘complimentary’ to the UN Convention.

Under the convention certain things are made abundantly clear.

  • An asylum seekers may not be penalised for their manner of entry.
  • They also may not be returned to a country where their life, or freedom, would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. This is known as the principle of “non-refoulement”.
  • They are also not allowed to be returned to a country where there is a reasonable chance that they may be at risk.

As the EU routinely returns refugees to Libya, an active conflict zone where they face being sold into slavery, tortured or killed, this creates a question over the legitimacy of returning asylum seekers to EU states, however, this is still in question.

The Dublin regulations were designed with two core purposes, protect the EU’s external borders in order to allow for freedom of movement within it, and to ensure that no member state was left dealing with all asylum seekers. This part is known as “burden sharing”.

It was not designed to allow member states to absolve themselves of their obligations under international law to process asylum claims. This, however, is exactly what the UK, which already processes a fraction of the asylum claims other EU states do, uses it for.

As the UK gets closer to leaving the Dublin III Regulations the pressure is on it do deport as many asylum seekers as possible using it. This risks violating international law though by denying asylum seekers the opportunity to have their claims fairly assessed.

This then brings us to the second issue of deportations, rough sleepers.

Rough sleeper. | Geograph — Evelyn Simak
This increases their vulnerability and places them at increased risk domestically of being forced into modern slavery and exploited.

Deportation of rough sleepers.

As with asylum seekers, when you place a threat of deportation on someone you immediately reduce their opportunities to seek assistance from the state.

This increases their vulnerability and places them at increased risk domestically of being forced into modern slavery and exploited. They can’t turn to the authorities for assistance and employers can threaten them with deportation if they don’t do what they are told.

As a sidenote, the UK is one of only two countries in the world – the other being the United States – which cannot achieve a rating higher than BBB on the Global Slavery Index because of its own policies which prevent people being able to avail themselves of the protection of the state.

Global Slavery Index. | The Minderoo Foundation

Deportation for the first two categories increases risks to people in the UK by denying them assistance. If they are deported those risks increase. They are left without suitable assistance, which makes them more likely to be preyed on again by traffickers.

Then we have the third category, foreign national offenders (FNOs).

Deportation of foreign national offenders.

This is the area which Priti Patel likes to try and make out all deportations relate to because it is easier to argue for deporting criminals than sending people to places where they will be used as slaves.

There is an issue here though. Not only do those deported as FNOs face the same risks of modern slavery and trafficking as the first two groups due to being left without suitable assistance in the countries they are sent to, but it also acts as a ‘secondary punishment’.

Deportation is liable in the event someone has served 12 months or more of a prison sentence, and is only used after they have completed their sentence. This means it is applicable even for non-violent crimes where someone may have been rehabilitated.

As it can only be applied to foreign nationals it is by any definition a discriminatory punishment. This automatically places individuals at risk of being unfairly treated under the law based solely on their nationality.

There are many arguments against the deportation of FNOs, however, there is an emotional context to this. People feel safer if they think that offenders are being deported. There are two primary problems here.

Priti Patel. | Number 10
Deportation of foreign national offenders automatically places individuals at risk of being unfairly treated under the law based solely on their nationality.

The first is legal, any functioning legal system must not rely on emotion. Instead it must be able to demonstrate that it acts without fear or favour and all who face it do so in the knowledge they will be treated the same as anyone else.

The second is that it isn’t realistic. The streets aren’t made safer by deporting a handful of people who have already served their sentences. They are made safer by having a prison system which works in terms of rehabilitation and therefore reduces recidivism rates overall.

Deportations sound like they are a way to reduce the number of criminals in the UK, but the reality is that all they are is an acknowledgment by the Home Office that the prison system is flawed and unable to fulfil a critical function.

Overall deportations cost the UK tens of millions of pounds, money which could be far better spent I would argue on the prison system to increase opportunities for rehabilitation and reduce the chances of those who have served sentences re-offending, no matter their nationality.

At the same time, however, deportations place people at an increased risk of trafficking and modern slavery, which helps facilitate the trade and increases the power which international gangs have, thereby reducing safety and security and placing lives in danger.

Arguments for deportation tend to rely on emotional responses to the concept of people who have committed crimes being allowed to remain the country. As we have seen though they are used for all manner of people, not just criminals.

It is essential that we stop deportations to ensure that the UK legal system can be shown to be fair and equal. To reduce the grip of traffickers, to save money and reduce the overall levels of re-offending, to adhere to international law, and to save lives.🔷

Dan Sohege, Human rights advocate, international refugee law specialist, immigration economist, charity fundraising professional and Director of Stand For All.

[This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article on 6 December 2020 with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected, and published with the author’s consent. | The author of the tweets writes in a personal capacity.]

(Cover: Shutterstock/Nito.)