Sammy Mahdi (CD&V), secretary of state for migration and asylum in the federal government, has rejected a proposal by the British Home Secretary Priti Patel to turn back transmigrants who arrive in the UK from a safe European country.
Patel announced the plan earlier this week as part of a major overhaul of the country’s asylum system, and the first since the UK left the European Union.
Migration formed a large part of the argument for Brexit, with voters keen for the country to take over its own immigration controls rather than be bound by ‘Europe’s orders’.
Part of the Patel plan involves turning away or otherwise deporting any illegal migrant who has arrived in the UK after travelling through one or more safe country. That, in effect, means all of them, since there is literally no other way to arrive in an island nation.
The proposal is a legalistic translation of the ‘send them back where they came from’ cry on the lips of any anti-immigration Briton – with the term ‘where they came from’ generally meaning ‘anywhere but here’.
But Mahdi yesterday pointed out to Patel and the British government that the proposal is impossible as a direct result of Brexit.
As a member state of the EU, the UK was part of a set of agreed rules known as the Dublin arrangements, whose purpose was to determine which country was responsible in a particular case for examining asylum requests and, if necessary, for processing returns.
But Brexit meant an end to that multilateral cooperation, and attempts by Patel to negotiate a bilateral replacement fell of deaf ears.
“I will not take part in a unilateral return agreement,” he said. “The United Kingdom chose to leave the EU and can therefore not continue to count on our European solidarity.”
Meanwhile Patel assured the UK parliament this week that negotiations are under way.
“We are speaking to EU member states right now and having negotiations,” she said.