The proposal to send asylum seekers arriving by boat to Rwanda, in order to discourage future arrivals, is clearly abhorrent and unlikely to work. But those who ask what is the alternative raise an important question.
The current asylum system is completely dysfunctional. It does not prioritise those who most need political asylum; and because refugees have to arrive before they can apply, the chance to apply for asylum is controlled by people smugglers.
To create a better system we need to renegotiate the Geneva Convention, which both requires arrival in the country of application and entrenches rights of appeal that take a considerable time and mean that most applicants have become settled before the application process is complete.
Signatories to this new convention should fund the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to provide for all those seeking asylum near their point of departure. All signatory countries should register offers for significant numbers of families fleeing persecution. UNHCR should select the most needy and countries should transport and settle these families in the way that was done for the small but exemplary Syrian vulnerable person’s resettlement scheme which invited local communities to help settle and support refugee families.
Anyone arriving in a lorry or boat would be sent to a UNHCR facility and overnight the people smugglers would be out of business. But we would provide proper support for a fair share of refugee families. I did suggest such a renegotiation to António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, when he was high commissioner for refugees but he said countries would not offer places for significant numbers and therefore it wouldn’t work.
The present system is causing a backlash in many countries as people object to criminalised systems of arrival that do not prioritise the most needy refugee families.
The best solution would be an agreed renegotiation of the convention but failing that individual countries could resile from the convention and set up alternative arrangements. The UK currently spends £1.5bn being nasty to applicants to try to make approval difficult. How much better to spend funds positively, appeal to the generous instincts of people and cut the people smugglers out of the picture?