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Campaign update: UK Home Secretary Theresa May wants to narrow the legal definition of a ‘refugee’

The Independent

At this week’s party conference for the UK Conservatives, Home Secretary Theresa May had strong words on the subject of migration. Not only did she describe mass immigration as a threat to a cohesive society that depresses wages, but she also set out a clear stall on what direction she thinks the UK should take in tackling the refugee crisis.

While the Home Secretary promised that priority will be given to ‘helping the most vulnerable in the world’s most dangerous places’, in the same speech she advocated the narrowing of the definition of what constitutes a refugee, “because there is a huge difference between a young Syrian family fleeing the tyranny of ISIL or Assad, and a student who claims asylum once he has been discovered overstaying his visa”. The speech also promised to overhaul the UK’s current asylum system in order to reduce the number of people coming to Britain specifically, including introducing laws that would force claimants to return to their home countries if they were now deemed to be safe. She also strongly rejected the idea of EU-wide quotas for refugees, stating ‘not in a thousand years’ would they be accepted.

The speech has been widely condemned by human rights groups, particularly a section in which she stated the asylum system currently rewards the ‘wealthiest, the luckiest and the strongest’. The Refugee Council has described the speech as ‘chilling’:

‘The Home Secretary’s idea that the few refugees who reach Britain’s shores under their own steam are not in need of protection is fundamentally flawed. Becoming a refugee is not solely the privilege of the poor or infirm.’

So what does that mean for the current crisis? Well, The Home Secretary’s speech suggests that she is not committed to Britain taking in a fair share of refugees or taking reasonable steps to tackle the crisis at a fundamental level.