Refugee sector meeting with Thangam Debbonaire MP
Refugee sector meeting with Thangam Debbonaire MP

The government’s New Plan for Immigration and the Nationality and Borders Bill entered Parliament last week. I am seriously worried about how this will affect people seeking asylum.

The Bill’s second reading will be on 19th and 20th July. After that the Bill will go to the Lords, before it comes back to Parliament for its third reading.

The Bill is a big threat to the right to seek asylum and is a very concerning piece of legislation.  The Home Office is broken – my team and I know this from weak or non-existent responses, chronic waiting times and the limbo that they leave people in.  Unfortunately this Bill will only worsen these problems, and it will criminalise ‘irregular’ refugee routes without offering any more safe and legal routes.

Last Friday I spent the morning discussing this with Bristol-based refugee organisations and constituents.

During the public meeting I explained some of the most concerning aspects of the Bill. For example, it would prevent granting refugee status to people seeking asylum who have stopped in another country outside the UK after leaving their home. The government is also trying to create a tiered system accommodation provision depending on conditions for arrival, in effect making asylum camps like Napier Barracks a form of punishment for those who have arrived via a safe third country. Seeking asylum is a right and it’s really worrying that an asylum camp is the only form of accommodation to which some people will be entitled.

The Bill will also make it a criminal offence to facilitate the arrival or attempted arrival into the UK. Rather than just criminalising those who seek to ‘gain’ from these journeys, this means that organisations such as the RNLI could be criminalised for helping an asylum seeker at sea.

The refugee organisations I spoke to are deeply concerned about how people seeking asylum will be able to reach the UK.  They are also worried at what will happen to those refugees and people seeking asylum who are already in the UK. Hate crime is rising. Moreover, people from certain countries (such as Eritrea and Iran) don’t have a route to return, even if they were able to.

It was apparent from these meetings that so many people fear these proposals. Nonetheless, it is positive to see so many constituents who oppose these inhumane measures and a keen to campaign against them.

This Bill also breaches the 1951 Refugee Convention, whose 70th anniversary is later this year. This convention was made after World War Two in Europe when there were millions of refugees crossing our continent.

What we need is faster, more efficient decision-making and more humane treatment of people seeking asylum. We must remember that it is legal to seek asylum.  It’s an issue of basic rights and the foundation of human dignity.  It’s also a big part of our values as a country, to give sanctuary to those fleeing war and persecution. Going against this is, I believe, goes against what most British people see as their identity.

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