The government’s offer to take in 20,000 Syrian refugees over five years is far “too low, too slow and too narrow”, according to a statement published by 300 senior lawyers, former law lords and retired judges. They declared the UK’s asylum policy as “deeply inadequate” on Monday, include the former president of the supreme court, Lord Phillips, three ex-law lords – Steyn, Walker and Woolf – as well as a former president of the European court of human rights, Sir Nicolas Bratza, and a one-time director of public prosecutions, Lord MacDonald. The statement calls for “safe and legal routes to the UK” to be established, for Britain to accept a “fair and proportionate share of refugees”, and suspension of the Dublin system, which compels asylum-seekers to claim asylum in the first country where they set foot in the EU.
Catriona Jarvis, a retired judge in the upper tribunal of the immigration and asylum chamber, who said: “When history considers how our country has behaved in this moment of serious crisis, do we want to be judged as having wrung our hands while standing back in the face of immense suffering? We have a legal and moral responsibility to provide protection that is not beyond our capabilities and should not be beyond our will.”
Sir Stephen Sedley, a court of appeal justice, said: “It is within the UK’s power to curtail the lethal boat traffic by enabling refugees from Syria and Iraq to travel here lawfully in order to apply for asylum. Since refuge from persecution and war is a universal human right, this means recognising that our government’s present offer to take no more than 20,000 Syrian refugees over five years is wholly inadequate. As a stable and prosperous country, we can do better than this.”
Sir Richard Buxton explained “I was an asylum judge for more than twenty years, and the Syria crisis dwarfs all previous experience. The first priority in this exceptional situation is for the law to enable safe and lawful routes to this country for genuine asylum seekers, to save them from the depredations of traffickers and danger and death in the Mediterranean.”
Pushpinder Saini QC, of Blackstone Chambers, said: “The letter reflects profound concern in the legal profession, including some of its most senior members, that the government lacks a coherent, just or humane response to the refugee crisis. We ask that government give these proposals serious consideration. As a nation which once had the foremost reputation as a safe haven for refugees, we have lost our way.”