The United Nations has warned ministers that proposed new powers to deport refugees who are convicted of serious offences while in Britain breach human rights conventions.
The UN high commissioner for refugees has written to peers who are due to vote today on a parliamentary order introducing the power to deport those who are convicted of “serious crimes”.
Parliament’s joint committee on human rights has also criticised the new powers, saying that the definition of “serious crimes” is so widely drawn that it includes trespassing, stealing a car and being caught in possession of an illicit drug.
Jean Corston, the Labour chair of the human rights committee, has told Home Office ministers: “We have serious concerns that the order as drafted is incompatible with the UK’s obligations under the Refugee Convention, and is therefore ultra vires.”
The Refugee Convention says that a country can only throw out somebody it has already given refugee status to if they commit a “particularly serious crime”.
International treaties already allow the home secretary, David Blunkett, to throw out those who commit such serious offences that they are a danger to the community.
The new power includes terrorist offences but the MPs say that it also includes a very wide range of lesser offences.
They cover drugs offences, immigration offences, customs and excise offences, offences against the person, including a wide range of sex offences and crimes against property such as theft and criminal damage.
The UNHCR has also warned that the wide-ranging nature of the deportation order breaches its guidelines on who should be deprived of international refugee protection because they have been found guilty of “heinous acts and serious common crimes”.
Mr Blunkett announced the new power, saying it was important that those who were given refugee status in Britain because they were fleeing persecution did not use asylum to avoid being held legally accountable for serious criminal acts.
The House of Lords vote on the new powers comes as the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, Alvaro Gil-Robles, undertakes a week-long official inspection of the human rights situation in Britain.
Mr Gil-Robles is to focus on the human rights situation in Northern Ireland and the impact of anti-terror legislation, the asylum system, prison conditions and criminal justice reforms throughout Britain.