UK asylum concerns 'insignificant' compared with others efforts: UN's Gillian Triggs
John Bevir in Geneva

In a vast glass fronted building in Geneva, UN Assistant High Commissioner Gillian Triggs arrives with a camera crew following her every move.

"They're making a film about who we are and what we do. It's months of work."

The United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees, or UNHCR, has maybe never been busier. A preexisting migrant crisis suddenly intensified as millions of Ukrainians were forced to flee their homes.


The UK's controversial Rwanda policy

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Despite an accent that makes it obvious she has spent a lifetime in Australia, the Assistant High Commissioner was born in the UK.

She's agreed to an interview today to discuss the UKs policy of putting some asylum seekers on one way flights to Rwanda. The UK government says it's 'necessary to tackle organized crime and people traffickers'... Gillian, as she's asked me to call her, isn't so sure...

Rwanda alternatives

'We completely agree with the United Kingdom government that we want to stop criminal gangs. We want to stop people drowning and being subjected to appalling risks as they move to try to find international protection. On that issue we're completely agreed with the United Kingdom government. 

"But where we part company I'm afraid, is that there are many, many alternatives, safe regular alternatives, that are infinitely better than shifting the responsibility for refugees to, in this case, Rwanda - 6000km away. And what we're suggesting to the United Kingdom is that it abide by its international obligations to allow people seeking asylum to have access to the territory to have their claim assessed in a fair and fast system."

The first flight tasking asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda was grounded because of last minute European legal intervention. Within hours, a spokesman for the Prime Minister's office said that "all options are on the table" when asked whether the UK would withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights.

That would allow the UK to do what they want - but what sort of message does that send? And what sort of precedent could that set?

'Well, it sends a very negative message," says Gillian. 

"And of course, we're worried about the precedent. This is the United Kingdom. It's a major leader and has been since the end of the Second World War in developing the international legal principles, particularly the right to claim asylum. 

"We would see that not only as extremely disappointing for the United Kingdom to do that, but it does set a precedent when many parts of the rest of the world are actually advancing their conventions. It will be very, very troubling for the United Kingdom to withdraw its leadership in meeting these international standards."

UK leadership lost?

The Assistant High Commissioner reaffirms that the UNHCR "don't want to lose that United Kingdom leadership," and is quick to praise others helping to tackle the migrant crisis. Having just come back from a trip to Poland, she uses a European example:

"The European Union has opened up its borders, millions of people coming in with the temporary protection directive. The sky has not fallen in, those countries are proudly hosting millions, certainly hundreds of thousands across Europe.

" It can be done with a political will and that's the political will we would like to see the United Kingdom use, because for the United Kingdom to be concerned about a few hundred or a few thousand, pales into almost complete insignificance, relative to the efforts that are being made by others."

And with that, the Assistant High Commissioner is swept into another meeting, camera crew a few steps behind her.

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