The recent publication of the Nationality and Borders Bill this week has marked the latest stage in the ongoing attack on refugee rights in the UK. Now it must galvanise everyone in this country who wants a fair and effective asylum system to oppose these changes.
The Government has claimed that two of its key objectives are to break up smuggling gangs, while also increasing ‘safe and legal routes’ for refugees to reach the UK. Unfortunately, nothing announced this week will do either of these things.
Instead, the provisions in this anti-refugee bill are likely to criminalise and punish many people seeking protection in this country, while also reducing one of the main ways that refugees can legally reach the UK.
Differential treatment of refugees
Refugees who do not arrive in the UK directly from a country of persecution (for example, those who travel across Europe) will not enter the asylum system when they make a claim for protection. Instead their claim will be treated as inadmissible while the Government tries to remove them from the country. They will also be under threat of a four-year prison sentence for ‘entering illegally’. If removal isn’t possible within a particular period of time, then their asylum claim will be heard.
However, even when these refugees are granted asylum, and therefore recognised as in need of protection after fleeing war, persecution, and tyranny, it will be under the guise of ‘temporary protection’. This means they will be given a lesser period of leave to live in the UK, which will need to be regularly renewed. They will be at risk of being removed from the country each time their leave is renewed.
This new approach flies in the face of the Refugee Convention, which states that the status of an asylum claim should not be dependent on the mode of entry into a country. It will create a group of vulnerable, precarious people, unable to plan for their futures in the UK or start to integrate. They will also have limited family reunion rights so will be kept apart from their children and spouses.
This cruel approach will not stop people arriving in the UK. It will, however, cost more as people will be waiting in limbo for months before their claim is heard, or as they cruelly move through the court and prison system.
The Government is proposing that some people seeking asylum will be housed in large-scale accommodation centres, rather than in housing in the community as is provided by the current system.
The recent use of a disused military barracks to house people seeking asylum has already shown why this kind of accommodation should not be an option. The Government recognises that vulnerable people should not live in hostel-type accommodation, yet the process for identifying vulnerabilities is flawed and vulnerable people still end up there.
Furthermore, we know that legal representatives have reported difficulties in being able to properly brief their clients and discuss their asylum claims in a shared space with people around at all times.
Finally, and most importantly, how we house those who seek protection in our country speaks volumes about our overall approach to refugees. Welcoming people to live in our communities while they make their asylum claim will aid their integration in the long run, and shows that we are proud to support those who have fled war and persecution. Housing them in reception centres does the opposite.
A lack of safe and legal routes
Government rhetoric throughout the production of its New Plan for Immigration has been that refugees should use legal routes to enter the UK, and that the Government supports the expansion of these routes. Unfortunately, nothing in this bill makes good on that commitment.
In recent years, 5,000 refugees have been resettled to the UK each year – but for 2021-22 the total is likely to be closer to 3,000. The Government is now refusing to commit to a target for future years and nothing in the bill gives any detail on refugee resettlement.
Additionally, over many years, tens of thousands of people have been reunited with their loved ones through refugee family reunion rules. Yet this key route is now being stymied, as the bill proposes that anyone with ‘temporary protection’ will have limited rights to refugee family reunion. This actually reduces the safe and legal routes to the UK, and means that many thousands of women and children will no longer be able to join loved ones in our country.
Next steps and how we fight back
The publication of the bill marks the start of its journey through Parliament, and MPs will debate the proposals many times during this journey.
However, the campaign for a fair asylum system, with refugee protection at its heart, does not begin or end in Parliament. We want to build a mass campaign of people that won’t stand by while the Government turns its back on those who need protection. Please keep an eye out for more on this in the coming months from us.