The most racist legislation of our lifetime: the Nationality and Borders Bill

6 January 2022

The House of Lords debated the Nationality and Borders Bill last night in a marathon six-hour session. It eventually had its second reading and goes back to the Commons to be debated by MPs.

The Bill - dubbed the “anti refugee bill” -  breaches international laws and conventions, including proposed offshore detention facilities, the revoking of citizenship (Clause 9) without notice or appeal, and border officials being authorised to push back families to their deaths.

Introducing the second reading of the bill, Lord Wolfson said:

“Being humane does not mean allowing everyone in, and I remind the House that there are some 80 million displaced people around the world today.” 

Yes well, Lord Wolfson needs to get a grip. 80 million people are not coming here. The vast majority of refugees, created partly because of this country’s interference in their country’s affairs, are hosted by neighbouring countries in their own region.  

The number of refugees making journeys to the U.K. has fallen by more than a third since 2010. We do not take our fair share of the world’s refugees and we are not the preferred destination for refugees seeking protection in Europe.

Those in genuine need that do seek protection in the U.K. do so for familial, language or educational reasons. They also seek protection in order to settle and earn citizenship rights.  After all, if you can’t resettle then what was the point of seeking refuge in the first place? Instead of criticising refugees for leaving “ safe countries” such as France, Belgium and the Netherlands, perhaps Lord Wolfson should consider the reasons why they would do so at all.

When Adnan Walid Elbi left Syria in 2011 to avoid war and conscription by the regime or the opposition, he hoped to build a better life for himself and his family by sending money home. He went to Libya to work, was tortured, and then got stopped in Denmark, on his way to Sweden to reach his younger brother. He was granted asylum in Denmark. He left because the new hard-line Danish government was telling him and other Syrians to return to Damascus because it was “safe”. Adnan - and other Syrians - knew of those who were killed on return and that it was not safe. Perhaps to the Danish government, this was all too dramatic, like a movie, but then for Adnan, and other Syrians, the movie meant certain death. He came to the U.K. in the hope of settling safely. After a few weeks, he was arrested on a train and detained in Dungavel where he attempted suicide. He was then forcibly dispersed to Glasgow. Several weeks later, he was taken from his accommodation and dumped with an hours notice in a crowded hotel mid-pandemic with no money. He became suicidal on more than one occasion and eventually died alone aged 33 in the Mclays Hotel in Glasgow on May 2020. His mother remains desperate to visit his grave.  

The introduction of accommodation centres will institutionalise a whole generation of refugees and their families and make it harder for people to resettle or get support to pursue legal resolution. They will also have the desired effect of cutting people off from sources of support and stop the rest of society detecting and speaking about abuses of basic human rights. NGOs and lawyers who can make a difference will have little or no direct access. We will know less and less firsthand about what’s going inside accommodation centres, we won’t know the numbers of suicides or self harm or outright neglect of human beings. The government has already recently misled us about the numbers of asylum seeker deaths in the U.K.

Our experience of people accommodated in hotels by home office sub contractors like Mears leaves us in no doubt that people will be terrified to be named, photographed while speaking out about Ill treatment because of fears about their asylum claims.

Ministers claim the Borders Bill will break the business model of people smugglers.  In fact, it will fuel people smuggling networks, and increase the reliance of people, already vulnerable to exploitation, upon the people smuggling gangs. Lord Rosser, Shadow Home Affairs Spokesperson, said it well: “Two years ago, the Home Secretary said that her then plan would halve the number of boats crossing the channel in three months and make them infrequent in six months. Needless to say, since then they have increased tenfold.”

Despite Ministers’ claims that it will save lives, the Bill will criminalise people for seeking protection in the UK. In the absence of a safe and permitted route, a dangerous journey will continue to be all that is left.  Expect more regular occurrences of refugees drowning in the English Channel, or suffocating or freezing to death in the back of lorries.

The Government claims that the Bill will mean pushbacks at sea, even though Border Force officials have said it is dangerous and unworkable. France has refused to agree to receive boats safely back, and so these pushbacks simply cannot happen in practice.

The Bill does not increase protection for refugees and survivors of modern slavery. Instead, it introduces several arbitrary procedural demands that will increase the barriers to refugees and survivors of modern slavery securing the protection to which they are entitled.

The Bill also makes provision for offshore asylum processing. This would put a refugee at grave risk of neither receiving the protection to which they are entitled nor being treated in accordance with human rights and refugee law while their asylum claim is considered. 

Several provisions in the bill will add significant new work for the Home Office. For example, having to repeatedly review the asylum claims of people already found to be refugees; and having to accommodate and manage people whose entry to the asylum system is delayed by the Home Office, even though it will ultimately have to deal with their claims.

While Ministers claim the Bill will save money, it will instead increase costs to the taxpayer, with additional spending on legal aid, financial support for asylum applicants and their accommodation. Other provisions require cooperation from other countries for the UK to transfer its responsibilities and people seeking asylum from the UK. There is no incentive for that cooperation unless the UK is willing to pay these countries large sums of money.

People who are trafficked into the UK are controlled by traffickers, and therefore not going to be deterred from entering the UK. People seeking asylum need to do so, and if their needs were not so great they would not make these dangerous journeys. The Bill is likely to deter some people from making their asylum claims in the UK. This will increase the number of undocumented people in the UK; and increase the vulnerability of people to exploitation and abuse even after they have arrived. 

Finally, Clause 9 of this Bill gives the Home Office sweeping new powers to seeks to strip British citizens of their citizenship without notice. Modern nationality law started in 1981 and was an attempt to formalise through paperwork a right that already existed. Baroness Warsi referred to Clause 9 as a “deeply dangerous” power grab by the Home Secretary, one that seeks to deprive someone of their right to citizenship without even giving the person being deprived the right to know, depriving them even of the right to check whether the Secretary of State had the legal basis or accurate facts to exercise that power. She called Clause 9 a debate about our “fellow citizens” not “immigration”.

“My parents’ generation always feared that their future generations would be outsiders, second-class citizens who would be told to “go back home” or to leave. My generation always dismissed these fears as unfounded, but Windrush proved they were not baseless. Clause 9 and the Government’s exponential use of deprivation powers compound these fears.”

Robina Qureshi

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