The UK must protect human lives as the Nationality and Borders Act comes into force

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In July 2021, The Nationality and Borders Bill was introduced to Parliament. It contained provisions about nationality, asylum, immigration, victims of slavery and human trafficking. The UK government stated that the reforms in the Bill were about saving lives and breaking the economic model of people smugglers. However, these claims have not been supported by evidence, nor do they properly consider key context and detail about the current asylum system. The Bill officially received Royal Assent, which made it law, on 28th April 2022; this sparked concerns among refugee charities who fear that that this move will only increase the anti-refugee sentiment in the UK.

The Government has claimed that two of the Act’s key objectives are to break up smuggling gangs, while also increasing ‘safe and legal routes’ for refugees to reach the UK. Unfortunately, nothing announced in April 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.

Since February 2022 the world has witnessed the heartbreaking human suffering caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Almost a quarter of Ukraine’s population has been displaced, with over 4 million people having fled the country in search of safety. The British public has demonstrated immense generosity and compassion in supporting those fleeing the terrors of conflict and seeking safety in our country. Yet the UK Government has introduced legislation which would punish refugees, like those from Ukraine and, indeed from similar war-torn countries such as Afghanistan and Syria, for making their own way to the UK in search of safety.

There are also wider fears that the Bill contains elements that contravene the 1951 Refugee Convention and the subsequent 1957 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, to both of which the UK is a party. Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s Refugee and Migrant Rights Director condemned the Bill, saying that “the UK government has ripped up the Refugee Convention – a longstanding international agreement”.

Perhaps one of the most controversial elements of the Bill includes a plan to process asylum claims in Rwanda, a country which has experienced its own migration and refugee-related challenges for decades. This route will be used to deal with what the government considers “inadmissible” asylum claims – including people who can no longer be returned to European transit countries following the UK’s exit from the European Union. This is an intensification of the longstanding trend of countries like the UK to prefer ever more restrictive, ‘remote-control’ approaches to reduce access to their territory, thereby avoiding asylum claims. A similar scheme run by Australia has had devastating consequences for asylum seekers; the costs will add up quickly.

Noting that the UK is a nation that prides itself on its long history of welcoming and protecting refugees, it is disappointing that the country has chosen a course of action aimed at deterring the seeking of asylum by relegating most refugees to a new, lesser status with few rights and a constant threat of removal.

Although the Act is now law, there are still several ways that we can help ensure the rights of refugees and asylum seekers wishing to enter the UK, as the measures outlined in the Act will not come into force overnight and much of the detail remains unclear. We can therefore voice our concerns about how refugees and asylum seekers will be treated in the UK in the future.

Actions we can take include:

– writing to our MPs, expressing our concerns about the Act and its legal implications

– donating to organisations – such as UNHCR UK and the Refugee Council – who are working to ensure that asylum seekers coming to the UK are given a chance to start fresh rather than having to live with constant fear.

We can remind our MPs that:

  1. The asylum system is broken and will not be fixed by unlawfully sending asylum seekers to be processed in an ‘offshore’ centre, thousands of miles away from the UK. In addition, the UK government should disclose information regarding this policy, which is contrary to international law.
  2. Stripping someone of British citizenship without any prior warning could lead to statelessness. The law does not allow the government to leave anyone stateless so the people most at risk from being stripped of their citizenship without notice are those born in other countries or who, for whatever reason, hold dual citizenship. There is minimal protection for these people in the Act.
  3. Protections against modern slavery risk being undermined. The parts of the law which criminalise individuals involved in irregular migration connect with another important element – the assumed nexus between asylum and modern slavery. The main thrust of the modern slavery provisions in this new law is to reduce the possibility for people whose asylum claims are considered “inadmissible” to avoid removal by falsely claiming they have been exploited. This, it is claimed, will solve the problem of people using (“abusing”) the system designed to address modern slavery to frustrate attempts at removal.
  4. The Nationality and Borders Act contravenes the principles outlined in the 1951 Refugee Convention, thus breaking international human rights law, despite the UK government’s ‘commitment’ to promoting and protecting human rights both domestically and internationally.

 

The fight is not over according to the Refugee Council and there is still some hope that a future where refugees are protected – not punished – exists. We need to continue raising awareness of the dangerous consequences that the Act will have on refugees and asylum seekers. The UK, for many years, has been a proud advocate for greater human rights for all but this Act threatens to undo decades of work in that field. By joining the movement to stand up for refugee rights in the UK, we can build a more compassionate country, which is open to all.

 

 

 

 

 

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