The so-called Illegal Migration – that is, Refugee Ban – Act is now law. This is horrifying and enraging. It all but extinguishes the right to claim asylum in the UK; it will mean a huge expansion of detention, and allow the indefinite incarceration of children on a massive scale; survivors of human trafficking will be stripped of all protection and support, undoing the hard won and incremental progress made on this issue over the last decade; and ultimately, hundreds of thousands will be trapped in limbo indefinitely, cycling between destitution, detention, and semi-incarceration in quasi-detention spaces like Napier barracks.
Attempts by the Lords to amend the Bill and ameliorate its worst effects were defeated last week, as the Bill was rammed through the final stages of the parliamentary process. There was significant pressure from some Tory backbenchers in the Commons to retain some safeguards on the detention of unaccompanied children. The government’s response was reported by some media as a meaningful concession, but the alteration they made to their original drafting of the Bill is so insipid as to offer very little protection. In fact, the government has that only unaccompanied children, who are detained specifically for removal, can apply to a court for a bail after 8 days, rather than 28. This won’t apply to children in families, even if they’re infants. It won’t apply to children on their own detained while the government tries to decide what to do with them – as those in Manston were. And to make use of the provision, a lone child needs a lawyer. Those are hard to come by, especially if you can’t advocate for yourself. Until this Bill passed, anyone detained could apply to a court for bail immediately. This was just a normal part of ensuring the system was operating lawfully. So, the small number of children this provision applies to, in very particular circumstances, will have fewer protections against immigration detention than anyone does now. Hardly a safeguard.
This law is purely destructive. It is intentionally, gratuitously cruel. It makes it impossible for most refugees to claim asylum. In this, it destroys mechanisms and principles designed to protect human life in the context of forced displacement, forged after the Holocaust. The devastating moral and human implications are hard to overstate.
The Act also has no constructive purpose. It will not even achieve its stated aim of ‘stopping the boats’, and it is a traffickers’ dream, making it impossible for vulnerable people to go to the authorities for help and leaving them so desperate that they have to accept a roof over their heads, a hot meal, or a few pounds on whatever terms are available. This must be bad for society as a whole. But the government has been so determined to demonstrate its cruelty towards refugees that this has been considered a price worth paying.
The politics that birthed this evil piece of legislation seeks to divide us. It seeks to dehumanise those who are ‘other’. It militates against a culture of encounter. But we will not let it do these things.
JRS UK will continue to oppose this despicable piece of legislation and call for it to be repealed. And we will continue to stand in solidarity with refugees. As they are pushed further to the margins, detained, rendered destitute, denied sanctuary, we will continue to accompany and serve them as companions. We will be there.
And what about right now? Over the next few months, as MPs are in recess, the immediate back and forth of parliamentary processes is in a lull. This is time to reflect, to regroup, to plan. It is also time to reach out to communities, to seek to foster regular encounter and understanding wherever possible. There are so many simple steps we can take that can make the world better, that can help, slowly, to forge a better way forward. Have a conversation with your neighbour about refugees; listen to, and really seek to understand, someone you disagree with; and reach out to whoever, in your community, is deemed the other.
Thank you for walking with JRS. Now is not the time to give up – JRS will continue to accompany, serve, and advocate alongside and for refugee friends. Now more than ever, we need your help and support to do this.