The Bill contains numerous measures to increase protection barriers and create an even more hostile environment for refugees. As originally drafted by the government, it contains clauses that would punish refugees for arriving in the UK without prior authorisation – which cannot normally be obtained – and for the point at which they present themselves to the authorities. These proposals have been widely criticised, including by JRS UK, for ignoring the reality of forced migration, failing to appreciate the many good reasons refugees have for claiming asylum after the first apparent opportunity, and breaking international law.
On Tuesday, the Bill will return to the House of Commons for consideration of Lords amendments. Among them are amendments that, if accepted, would remove key clauses penalising refugees for how they travel:
- An amendment to remove clause 11, which differentiates treatment of refugees based on how they travel and the point they present to the authorities, and would in practice impact the vast majority of refugees; and
- An amendment to remove clause 39, which criminalises refugees for how they arrive in the UK without prior authorisation.
The Refugee Convention does not oblige refugees to seek asylum in the first safe country, and non-penalisation of refugees when cross borders irregularly is one of its central tenets.
Sophie Cartwright, JRS UK’s Senior Policy Officer, said: “The Nationality and Borders Bill is an attack on the very principle of international protection. The experience of Ukrainians desperately fleeing for their lives, only to be held in limbo at processing centres as they try to get visas to come to the UK, shows once again how cruel, and purely absurd, it is to punish refugees for travelling without documents. On Tuesday, MPs will have an opportunity to rethink this inhuman approach. We pray for transformation of heart.”
Another amendment would remove provisions for offshore processing of asylum claims – forcibly removing asylum claimants to the UK. Offshore processing has proved unworkable and fostered human rights abuses in other places where it’s practised.
MPs will also have the opportunity to consider amendments adding new clauses to the Bill. Amendment would entail a commitment to resettle at least 10,000 refugees per year, and another would allow asylum seekers to work, unrestricted by the shortage application list, after awaiting a decision on their claim for 6 months. Currently, most asylum seekers are banned from working. The amendment to commit to resettlement occurs against the backdrop of a repeated refrain from the government that refugees should use “safe and legal” routes; currently, the Bill does nothing to create them, and clause 11 would even restrict them further, by reducing family reunion rights for the vast majority of refugees coming to the UK.
Unless on Tuesday MPs accept all the amendments suggested by peers, the Bill will subsequently return to the House of Lords for consideration of what MPs have by then suggested. A date for this is not yet scheduled.
Join us to oppose the Nationality and Borders Bill today, and call on your MP to agree to the amendments laid down in the Lords.