UPDATE April 28th 2022
Last night the Government’s inhumane Nationality and Borders Bill became an act of law. We are bitterly concerned about this cruel legislation that will undoubtedly cause harm.
We know the British public want an asylum system that is fair, orderly and humane – this is evident from the outpouring of welcome shown to people fleeing Ukraine and Afghanistan. The Government is out of step with the people, and through this harmful Act is demonstrates its prioritisation of control over compassion and competence.
However, the fight is far from over. We won’t give up.
Please read and share our blog to help raise awareness of the extend of the cruelty of this Act.
We know a different future is possible. A future where refugees are protected not punished.
In July of 2021, the Nationality and Borders Bill was introduced to Parliament. It contains provisions about nationality, asylum, immigration, victims of slavery and human trafficking. At Refugee Council, we focus specifically on elements of this new borders Bill that relate to refugees and people seeking asylum.
The Government has stated that the reforms in the Bill are about saving lives and breaking the economic model of people smugglers. However, these claims have not been supported by evidence, nor do they properly take into account key context and detail about the current asylum system.
Is the Nationality and Borders Bill law yet? How does it become law?
This Anti-Refugee Bill is not yet law. It is currently progressing through Parliament. There are several stages to the parliamentary process that culminate in royal assent and a bill becoming law.
Before this brutal piece of legislation becomes a law, the House of Commons and House of Lords debate and scrutinise the Bill, and may put forward and vote on amendments to the Bill’s content.
Parliamentary process and the Bill
The Nationality and Borders Bill is currently progressing through Parliament. There are several stages to the parliamentary process that culminate in Royal Assent.
How will the new rules for asylum affect refugees arriving in the UK? What is in the new Bill?
Some of the most brutal changes that will have a detrimental impact on refugees emanate from the introduction of a discriminatory two-tier system of refugee protection.
Find out more about Clause 11 and the proposals for differential treatment of refugees through a two tier-system.
Other provisions that could have a significant negative impact on refugees arriving in the UK are proposals for ‘offshore processing’, the use of ‘reception centres’, criminalisation of people seeking asylum and the age assessment of young people.
How can I oppose this Anti-Refugee Bill?
The provisions of the Bill relating to refugees and the asylum system focus heavily on penalising refugees who travel to the UK through ‘irregular’ means. However, the Government could, and should, do more to provide safe routes to the UK for people wishing to seek protection here. If refugees have access to safe routes, they will use them.
As such, we are calling on the Government to increase safe routes to the UK for refugees and their families.
Find out about other ways to oppose the Bill.
Why do refugees risk their lives crossing the Channel? Will the Bill help stop deaths in the Channel?
Our analysis shows that the men, women and children who come across the Channel in small boats are likely to be allowed to remain in the UK as refugees, with only just over a third of those arriving not being deemed to be refugees. This calls into question the Government and Home Office’s narrative that the majority of people crossing the Channel are NOT in genuine need of protection.
The reality is that people who come to the UK by taking terrifying journeys in small boats across the Channel do so because they are desperately seeking safety having fled persecution, terror and oppression. Their lives have been turned upside down through no fault of their own and they are exploited by callous people smugglers.
Rather than tougher measures that seek to punish and push away, or inaccurate and false statements that seek to dehumanise people who cross the Channel, we call on the Government show compassion by welcoming those who need refugee protection rather than seeking to cruelly push them back across the channel or punish them with imprisonment.
The Government has claimed that two of its key objectives with this Bill are to break up smuggling gangs, while also increasing ‘safe and legal routes’ for refugees to reach the UK. Unfortunately, nothing in the Bill will do either of these things.
What is 'offshore processing'?
The Bill will make changes to the law to enable the Government to transfer people to a third country where their asylum claim will be processed ‘offshore’. If enacted, this approach would signal a deeply worrying departure from the UK’s previous approach of giving people who seek protection a fair hearing on British soil.
Offshore processing is inhumane. In Australia, not only has it been proven to be incredibly expensive and ineffective, but it has had a devastating impact on the mental health of people seeking asylum, with very high rates of self-harm and suicide.
Sending people seeking asylum offshore (most likely to less developed countries) undermines the Refugee Convention. It also shifts the UK’s obligations elsewhere, setting a dangerous precedent, which if other developed countries followed, would see the majority of people seeking asylum being sent to countries that have far less resources and infrastructure to support them.
What are 'age assessments'? What do they mean for children and young people seeking asylum here?
Over many decades working with unaccompanied children seeking asylum in the UK, Refugee Council has repeatedly seen children incorrectly identified as adults. This has led to vulnerable children being housed with adults, and losing access to schooling, social care, and other support. Our Age Disputes Project works with hundreds of young people every year to challenge and overturn these incorrect decisions.
The Nationality and Borders Bill now includes an amendment regarding people seeking asylum whose age is disputed. The new clauses that the Government voted to include in the Bill enable new methods of assessing the age of an unaccompanied child, including ‘examining and measuring parts of a person’s body’ and ‘the analysis of saliva, cell or other samples taken from a person’. These new plans are not supported by the scientific community and are likely to lead to more children being incorrectly identified as adults, losing the support they need and exposing them to risk.
Ultimately there is no perfect method to assess age, but Government must retain safeguards to protect children who come to the UK seeking protection, and who have often experienced deep trauma.
Will people seeking asylum be housed in reception centres? What does that mean?
The Government is proposing to build ‘reception centres’ to hold people who have made an asylum claim in the UK. Our understanding is that these centres will involve ‘congregated living’ in hostel-type accommodation, which has been shown to be unsuitable to house people in the asylum system for long periods of time.
Throughout the pandemic we’ve been horrified by the shameful conditions refugees have experienced in barracks and hotel accommodation. Reception centres for people seeking asylum looks like a continuation of this plan. Instead, we should be welcoming people seeking asylum into our communities and supporting them to integrate.
Organisations like Doctors of the World have expressed concern about access to healthcare in these settings; as they are commonly in remote areas, this kind of support becomes more difficult. Currently, Government has failed to explain how it will secure the health and wellbeing of those housed in these centres, despite the fact those entering asylum system are more likely to suffer poor physical and mental health.
Proposals to extend these forms of accommodation are ill-thought out and dangerous, and undermine the UK’s duties to support and protect those making asylum claims.
The current dispersal system, whereby people seeking asylum live in regular housing in the community, is much better for supporting future integration and ensuring that people seeking asylum are able to access services they need.