Priti Patel speaks at the G6 Priti Patel speaks at the G6. Photo: Number 10 / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, license linked at bottom of article

The new ‘Nationality and Borders Bill’ is a callous move which will make life even harder for migrants and refugees, argues Jamal Elaheebocus

Priti Patel’s horrific new Nationality and Borders Bill, passed by Parliament this week, will aim to make the lives of immigrants and refugees coming to the UK even more difficult and desperate than before.

The government claims that the bill has three aims: To make the system more effective to protect those “in genuine need of asylum”; to deter illegal entry into the UK; and to remove from the UK “those with no right to be here”. They claim it will help those who seek asylum through official settlement schemes and punish those who come here illegally.

What it in fact does is make the immigration system even more cruel and create a two-tier system for “legal” and “illegal” immigrants which “risks breaching commitments under the Refugee Convention that clearly protect the universal right to seek asylum” according to the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency. 

The bill will give Patel power to expand the inhumane camp-style accommodation, like the notorious Napier Barracks, that has been used to house asylum seekers, including the possibility of using offshore detention centres. It will increase prison sentences for those who arrive illegally to 4 years and for those who attempt to return to the UK after a deportation order to 5 years.

It will also effectively criminalise organisations such as the RNLI who help desperate immigrants who are in danger at sea by arguing that they are facilitating illegal immigration.

The bill will also speed up the removal of many asylum seekers and will remove them if they passed through a country where they could have claimed asylum. This while the Home Office already has a secret policy of detaining people to deport them without considering their asylum claims.

The government is using this inhumane bill supposedly to tackle an immigration crisis. However, the crisis is entirely of their own making. Asylum claims are at historically low levels; there were around 36,000 asylum claims in 2019, which is half the number of claims there were 20 years ago. 

The reason why there is a huge backlog of asylum claims that have not been dealt with – around 100,000 in all – is because the government has underfunded immigration services. The cuts to the UK Border Agency resulted in a 20% reduction in the UKBA workforce and thus immigration services are unable to deal with even low levels of asylum claims.

Furthermore, the supposed crisis of immigrants entering the UK illegally is a direct result of the government’s refusal to expand safe, legal passages for asylum seekers. Refugees must prove they cannot return to their home country due to race, religion or other forms of discrimination.

This is the same in many European countries, which have hostile immigration systems like Britain’s. It means it is simply not possible for the majority of refugees and asylum seekers to enter countries legally. They are left with no choice but to pay people smugglers and enter illegally, risking their lives in extremely dangerous conditions in boats which are extremely overcrowded and unsafe.

Many asylum seekers are fleeing countries suffering from conflicts which the UK has been directly involved in. In 2020, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan – countries in which the UK has been involved in militarily – were all in the top seven countries which asylum seekers arrive from. Iran, which is under crippling US sanctions supported by the UK and EU, was top of the list.

This bill will not deal with the crisis in immigration service and will not protect asylum seekers from people traffickers. What it will do is cause further suffering and misery to some of the most vulnerable people through detaining asylum seekers in inhumane conditions and deporting them back to countries where they are not safe. It will also further fuel racism towards immigrants and refugees as the government continues to use them as scapegoats for their neglect of working class people over the last decade.

If the government was serious about protecting refugees and making the asylum system fairer, they would increase safe passages for asylum seekers to arrive in the UK. They would properly fund immigration services so that more asylum claims could be processed and they would make it easier for asylum seekers to claim asylum, without having to prove that they are unable to return to their home country.

And above all, they would cease the reckless and destructive military interventions in countries across the Middle East, which is what has caused so many to flee and be forced into seeking asylum.


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