The UN’s top rights official urged the United Kingdom on Friday to reconsider proposed changes to its border policy, warning that suggested reforms would criminalize vulnerable people for entering the country irregularly.

The draft law was introduced as the Nationality and Borders Bill in the House of Commons last July by Home Secretary Priti Patel, so that the UK could “take full control of its borders” and prevent abuse.

As is usual practice, the proposed bill was then sent to the House of Lords for approval.

But the Upper House rejected its key provisions and instead recommended changes that were more in line with international standards.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said that the Lords’ “resounding rejection” of the bill’s key provisions should send a compelling signal to the UK Government that it does indeed require “significant amendments.”

Refugee Convention guide

“I urge the Government and MPs [members of Parliament] in the House of Commons to act on this signal and bring the proposed legislation into conformity with international human rights law and the 1951 Refugee Convention,” said Ms. Bachelet.

She added that if the current proposals were not amended, the resulting law would “penalize people who enter the UK by irregular means as if they were criminals.”

Any such development would contravene international law and standards and separate asylum seekers arriving in the UK “into two tiers, violating the right of each person to an individual assessment of their own protection needs,” the High Commissioner insisted.

Nationality stripped

In a statement the High Commissioner also warned that “the Bill as originally formulated would allow for British nationals to be deprived of their UK citizenship without notice and in an arbitrary manner, risking increased Statelessness.”

Ms. Bachelet also highlighted how the proposal “to broadly criminalize those who facilitate irregular migration could punish and deter people from rescuing migrants in distress at sea, potentially resulting in dire consequences, including more tragic loss of life in the Channel.”

Critics of the UK Government-led reform have expressed concern that the proposals make it easier to prosecute asylum seekers before they have a chance to claim asylum. And they have condemned a scheme to set up offshore processing centres for those seeking international protection in the UK.

“The proposed offshore processing centres would expose asylum seekers to real risks of forced transfers, extended periods of isolation and deprivation of liberty, violating their human rights and dignity,” Ms. Bachelet insisted.

In 2021, asylum applications to the UK reached 48,540, according to the UK House of Commons Library.