The Conservatives have pledged to push to reform the international definitions of asylum and refugee status, claiming the current systems favour the young, fit, and well resourced who can illegally travel to Europe, leaving the less well-off behind.
On page 40 of their Manifestation, the Conservatives pledge to “work with other countries in Europe, and the United Nations, to review the international legal definitions of asylum and refugee status.”
They claim, “the existing system… is geared towards people who are young enough, fit enough, and have the resources to get to Britain, rather than those who are most in need of our help.”
Adding: “Wherever possible, the government will offer asylum and refuge to people in parts of the world affected by conflict and oppression, rather than to those who have made it to Britain.”
They also claim they will aim to reduce the number asylum claims made in the UK – something the Tories have failed to do in the past – but also say “we will ensure Britain remains a place of sanctuary for refugees and asylum seekers.”
The legal definition of a refugee is enshrined in the Internation Refugee Convention, which sets out the rights of individuals who are granted asylum.
During the 2015/2016 migrant crisis, around 1.2 million migrants illegally crossed into Europe, but just 28 per cent of asylum claimants in the European Union, plus Norway and Switzerland, in 2016 were from Syria.
The manifesto pledge is somewhat in line with David Cameron’s policy of taking refugees from camps near Syria, rather that welcoming those entering Europe and so encouraging more dangerous and illegal border crossings.
However, the Tory policy will also be seen as an appeal to UKIP voters.
UKIP have long criticised Europe’s approach to migration and asylum and is committed to reform of the Dublin convention, which stipulates that migrants must claim asylum in the first safe European nation they enter.
Back in 2013, former party leader Nigel Farage said it was time for “a proper debate” on “the difference between a refugee – who fears for his or her life – or somebody moving simply for economic benefit”.
In their 2015 manifesto, the party called for “immediate review of the asylum process which aims to speed up rights to Leave To Remain…” But, unlike the Tories, they said they would “maintain principles of UN Convention on Refugees for Asylum”.
In October 2015, Paul Nuttall, now UKIP leader, wrote in Breitbart that “the majority of these people [entering the EU] are not genuine asylum seekers from war-torn Syria, they are opportunistic economic migrants who see the prospect of work and benefits in rich northern EU member states worth risking their lives for.”
“I do wonder where all the women and children are, as virtually all of these migrants seem to be young, healthy men” he added, pointing out that the Human Relief Foundation had reported that between 95-97 per cent of migrants in the ‘Jungle’ migrant camp in Calais were men.
“So where are the women and children? Back at home in Syria sheltering from bombs and ISIS?” he asked.