Asylum: from deterrence to criminalisation


Asylum: from deterrence to criminalisation

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Written by: Liz Fekete


Below we reproduce Liz Fekete’s introduction to Asylum: from deterrence to criminalisation, a new report written by leading human rights lawyer Frances Webber.

The EU’s spin about its harmonisation of asylum policy to create a supposedly fairer, more easily navigable system, masks the grim reality of life in Europe for would-be refugees. For European asylum policy today is determined by two simple but very rigid objectives: the need to reduce asylum claims and the need to increase the speed of removal of failed asylum seekers. If both objectives are to be achieved, targets must be set. But if these targets are not achieved through conventional and legal means, then governments shift the goalposts so as to criminalise a whole host of activities relating to asylum and asylum seekers. For instance, by rendering illegal the act of seeking asylum (or the supporting of those who try), politicians magically achieve their first target – the reduction of claims.

In this major review of developments in asylum law from 2002-2005, which covers over 100 cases from across Europe, leading UK human rights lawyer Frances Webber draws attention to the new ways in which the criminal law is being used in the asylum process, as well as against migrants generally. This is a direct consequence, she argues, of the EU’s adoption of a penal framework to prevent the arrival of would-be refugees in Europe and to aid the departure of failed asylum seekers.

When asylum law is drafted within a criminal law framework, it is inevitable that the human rights parameters that influenced the original Geneva Convention will be undermined. Frances Webber examines a number of prosecutions brought against individuals who, through their humanitarianism, have sought to assist asylum seekers or undocumented migrants. What emerges is a tendency for ‘solidarity’ itself to be regarded as criminal. Human rights campaigners, journalists, lawyers and religious leaders are among those prosecuted for such innocuous and unthreatening activities as housing the destitute, exposing degrading conditions in detention centres, or advising those under threat of deportation of their legal and civil rights.

But Webber’s narrative is also a damning indictment of our politicians who dare to legislate against basic human rights conventions. By bringing together a number of cases where individuals have resisted unjust laws, she demonstrates that Europe’s humanitarian tradition is very much alive and well. Europe today has a new breed of conscientious objectors who will not be bowed by unjust laws. They have been at the centre of many landmark cases, such as that of Charles Frammezelle, convicted under laws designed to penalise those smuggling in illegal entrants for distributing clothing, food and medical aid to destitute asylum seekers in Calais. Some 354 organisations and 20,000 individuals came out in Frammezelle’s support. They signed a manifesto declaring, ‘If solidarity is a criminal offence, I demand to be indicted for this crime.’

Related links

Asylum: from deterrence to criminalisation (pdf file, 273 kb)


Asylum: from deterrence to criminalisation by Frances Webber is issue No. 55 of the IRR European Race Bulletin, which is published four times a year). It is available from the Institute of Race Relations, 2-6 Leeke Street, Kings Cross Road, London WC1X 9HS. Telephone +00 44 (0)20 7837 0041. 19pp. Price £7.


The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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