What is the Nationality and Borders Bill and why is it anti-refugee?

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The Nationality and Borders Bill was introduced by the current British government on 6 July 2021. It is also known as the “Anti-Refugee” Bill by many. The organisation Freedom from Torture has deemed the bill “the biggest attack on the rights of refugees in 70 years”. 

The Bill passed in the House of Commons on the 8 December 2021, and entered the House of Lords early in the new year. It will now go to Committee Stage in the House of Lords.

Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, is heading the Bill. She made a speech on the 19 July in the House of Commons with an opening statement saying “the British people have had enough of open borders and uncontrolled migration”.

She outlined why the British have had enough of the current system of immigration. In a repetitive manner she gave varying reasons, including the cost the asylum system has on the British government and its people. She did not provide details of how that money was being spent. 

Image credit: BBC News

On the official government website under the subsection ‘why we are doing this?’, it outlines that the number of people being deported in recent years has been declining and as a result there are over 10,000 “Foreign National Offenders circulating on the streets, posing a risk to the public”.  One of the aims of the proposed legislation listed on the Parliament UK website is “breaking the business model of people smuggling networks and protecting the lives of those they endanger ”. 

The Bill has been criticised by lawyers, advocates and non-governmental organisations for its defiance of established international law. In October, a team of immigration lawyers concluded that the Bill violated international and domestic human rights law in ten different ways.  There are key issues in the Bill including the no-notice deprivation of citizenship; priority removal notices; accelerated removal notices; abolition of some appeal rights; insufficient access to legal aid; and the Home Office being able to define who is a victim of trafficking/slavery.  

The Scottish National Party has been adamant in its opposition of the Bill. The Home Affairs spokesperson Stuart McDonald MP stated “This hateful anti-refugee Bill, if passed, will see people seeking asylum criminalised…It is also a full-frontal assault on the UN Refugee Convention and breaches the UK’s international obligations… let me be clear, none of this is happening in Scotland’s name”. 

Let me be clear, none of this is happening in Scotland’s name

Stuart McDonald MP

The concerns are due to the nature of the Bill incriminating anyone who enters the UK in a ‘non-legal’ or ‘unofficial’ route, i.e. sea crossings. This is contained in Clause 10 of the Bill and many action groups are campaigning for Lords and MPs to oppose this clause in particular. 

Awaiting an ‘official’ route to enter the UK is incredibly difficult when one is escaping their home country, for example in Afghanistan last August when there would have been no time to find an ‘official’ route. To utilise how a refugee arrives in the country as a means of determining their protection and treatment contradicts the right to seek asylum from persecution in other countries, Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It will also criminalise those who are in the UK knowing they do not have a right to remain and it will introduce longer sentences for those who enter the UK without a legal reason. 

Image credit: The National Scot

Measures that will be taken to remove refugees from the UK would be sending those seeking refuge to offshore detention centres in other countries. These centres are modeled on those in Australia which have come under fire recently due to the detention of the tennis player Novak Djokovic. 

In these centres refugees can wait years to live freely. Similarly, the Australian government states that anyone who arrives by boat seeking asylum would not be resettled in Australia. Those seeking refuge are sent to surrounding islands to have their claims processed. There are concerns that in the offshore detention centres there will be no guarantee of access to legal advice, healthcare, freedom of movement or an appeal. 

The ‘priority removal notices’ are periods of time given to a person in which they can appeal a decision of deportation. This means that a date is set in which all evidence must be given by the appellant to make their claim of protection. This does not take into account those who may be suffering both mentally and physically from their experiences that they must use as their argument. The Home Secretary can also limit the appeal to one tier of the judicial system. So, if a trial judge was to make a mistake, there would be nothing the appellant can do. 

The proposed legislation also accounts for the abolition of some appeal rights which is very concerning. The new system would mean those who have been deported have no way of appealing the decision while in another country, regardless of the conditions that they are in. 

There are also worries about the practises being introduced into the Bill from many organisations which have been expressed recently in protests surrounding the parliament buildings, while Border Force personnel may strike in protest. The Public and Commercial Services Union which represents most Border Force staff are questioning the use of “push backs” across the Channel to deter crossings. They also took the government to court to determine the legality of these “push backs”. They teamed up with the charity Care4Calais to do so. In recent days, reports have been made that the government are giving up on these “push backs” due to the resistance. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has reportedly proposed the use of the navy in small groups to monitor the Channel instead.

The main objections to the Bill are that the system will become increasingly unlawful in terms of detentions and threaten the fairness of the procedural process. 

Clause nine of the Bill is the ‘no-notice of deprivation of citizenship’ clause. This clause has probably received most attention in the media. It allows the Home Office to strip a person of their British citizenship without any notice if it is not practicable to do so or if it is in the interest of public safety, diplomatic relations or otherwise in the public interest. The government in its response to the outcries on social media has stated that it would only be used in “exceptional circumstances”, however, this is not stated in the Bill. Approximately six million residents in England and Wales could be deprived of their British citizenship without their knowledge. 

Despite the Bill continuing through the legal processes of parliament, more people are beginning to protest at its content and the possible ramifications. Protests are planned for the month of January including at Maxwell Square Park in Glasgow on the 22nd January 2022 at 12pm. 

Featured image credit: The National Scot

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