Prime Minister Theresa May has delivered her first speech to the UN. But she has come under fire for applying the same divisive politics she uses at home to vilify migrants and justify her controversial border policies.
Migration as an apparent threat to security
On 18 September 2016, May delivered her maiden speech to the UN General Assembly. It took place amid a two-day summit where world leaders discussed how they plan to deal with migration figures and the so-called refugee crisis.
May started her speech with her signature issue: security. She said that security at home could only be achieved when countries cooperate “as a community of nations, to deliver security across the globe”.
She emphasised the many outward activities that the UK had undertaken, along with the country’s continuing commitments. For example, the UK will continue to commit 0.7% of its GDP to tackling poverty and the root causes of migration. It will also champion the rights of women and girls, she said, and take action to mitigate climate change.
But May was quick to state that it was what many people at home in the UK wanted that was most important – plain and simple, that they didn’t want more immigration.
Framing the refugee crisis in terms of a security threat, May said:
Just as we need the United Nations to modernise to meet the challenges of terrorism in the 21st century, so we also need to adapt if we are to fashion a truly global response to the mass movements of people across the world and the implications this brings for security and human rights.
She went on to stress the importance of the 1951 and 1967 Refugee Conventions, but also suggested that the context in which they apply has changed. Distinguishing between people fleeing from war and economic migrants, May suggested three courses of action:
“First, we must help ensure that refugees claim asylum in the first safe country they reach”
May used Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey as examples of countries that successfully provide adequate protection and assistance. But human rights organisations have highlighted the insecurity migrants will face in these countries. 75,000 people, for example, were recently discovered stranded between the Syria-Jordan border. Lebanon, meanwhile, is really struggling – as 25% of its population are now refugees. And Turkey has also been slammed consistently for its abuses against Syrians trying to flee the conflict.
“Second, we need to improve the ways we distinguish between refugees fleeing persecution and economic migrants”
May used the Refugee Conventions of 1951 and 1967 to make her point, which was criticised by Bill Frellick, Director of the refugee programme at Human Rights Watch:
May’s call for ‘properly applying’ the Refugee Convention appears to suggest that it should be used as a tool of exclusion, particularly for people caught up in the large-scale movements of refugees and migrants that the summit was intended to address.
Africa and Latin America sought to fill the gap in the convention with regional declarations that included a wider refugee definition. The European Union’s individualized asylum system has also managed to include wider grounds for protection beyond the limitations of the Refugee Convention.
“Third, we need a better overall approach to managing economic migration which recognises that all countries have the right to control their borders”
May insisted here that those who had no right to remain should unapologetically be sent back. But the way her own former department (the Home Office) did that was found to be in breach of the Human Rights Act 1998 by an independent inquiry.
But this didn’t stop May from emphasising the founding declaration of the UN and, in particular, that “no one shall be held in slavery”. This was the perfect segue to highlight the government’s work on modern-day slavery, a relatively apolitical issue which is popular in the international community.
May’s speech attracted further criticism, particularly for her eagerness to distinguish between those who migrate to escape danger and those who migrate to try and achieve a better life.
Rob Williams, CEO of War Child, said:
We welcome the Prime Minister’s strong commitment to eradicate modern slavery.
But he also insisted that:
a major driver of modern slavery within Europe is the relative absence of any safe and legal routes for displaced and refugee children to be reunited with their families in European countries. As a result, children end up at the mercy of criminal networks for merely trying to get to their loved ones.
Therefore, a sincere commitment to eradicate modern-day slavery would be demonstrated by offering more legal pathways for displaced people.
But it seems that May simply used her slot at the UN not to unite with other nations and improve the situation for refugees (and migrants everywhere), but to tout the divisive policies she’s so fond of at home.
– Read more about the Summit for Refugees and Migrants.
– Support the Refugees Welcome campaign.
– Read more Canary articles on immigration.
– Support The Canary if you appreciate the work we do.
Featured image via Flikr/DFID – UK Department for International Development
We need your help to keep speaking the truth
Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.
Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.
We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.
In return, you get:
* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop
Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.
With your help we can continue:
* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do
We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?