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Braverman’s claim over lowering of threshold for asylum seekers debunked by lawyers

Suella Braverman’s claim that increasing numbers of asylum seekers find refuge in the west because the threshold to qualify for asylum has been lowered does not apply in the UK under guidance in her own department, lawyers have said.

In a controversial speech on Tuesday, the home secretary said that as case law has developed since the Refugee Convention 1951, “what we have seen in practice, is an interpretive shift away from ‘persecution’, in favour of something more akin to a definition of ‘discrimination’.”

She said that “the practical consequence” of this development has been “to expand the number of those who may qualify for asylum” including gay people and women fearing discrimination.

But immigration lawyers have pointed out that Home Office guidance to caseworkers says that asylum seekers must demonstrate “whether the claimant does in fact fear persecution”.

A document entitled ‘Assessing credibility and refugee status,’ which advises caseworkers since the Nationality and Borders Act came in last year, says “the decision-maker must determine if it is more likely than not that the claimant has a characteristic which would cause them to fear persecution for one or more of the convention reasons [race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion], and that they do in fact fear persecution”.

Home Office sources said that Braverman’s speech was addressing global issues and not just the UK. But the disclosure of the guidance has prompted criticism from a leading refugee charity.

Enver Solomon, the chief executive of the Refugee Council, said : “It is alarming that speculative claims can be made by the home secretary – appearing to question the standard of her department’s asylum decision-making – without any serious evidence to support them.

“Suggesting that decision-making thresholds have been weakened is not credible. It should not be forgotten that it was only last year that new guidance was issued following the passing of the Nationality and Borders Act that actually changed the threshold to a more stringent test,” he said.

In the speech to a rightwing thinktank in Washington, which has been widely seen as an attempt to increase her political profile, Braverman said there had been a move away from “persecution” to “discrimination”.

She added: “And there has been a similar shift away from a ‘well-founded fear’ toward a ‘credible’ or ‘plausible fear’.

“The practical consequence of which has been to expand the number of those who may qualify for asylum, and to lower the threshold for doing so,” she said.

In a particularly incendiary passage, she said fearing discrimination on the basis of being gay or a woman should not, by itself, be enough to qualify for refugee status.

“Let me be clear, there are vast swathes of the world where it is extremely difficult to be gay, or to be a woman.

“But we will not be able to sustain an asylum system if in effect, simply being gay, or a woman, and fearful of discrimination in your country of origin, is sufficient to qualify for protection,” she said.

Sir Elton John and his long-term partner, David Furnish, released a statement saying they were “very concerned” by her comments and called for “more compassion, support and acceptance for those seeking a safer future”. Braverman risked “further legitimising hate and violence”, they warned.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Tackling illegal migration is a top priority for the government, and there are an unacceptable number of people risking their lives, making dangerous crossings on small boats.

“Through the recent Illegal Migration Act and last year’s Nationality and Borders Act, the government has raised the threshold to qualify for refugee status in the UK, as part of our commitment to stop the boats.”

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