We will collate reports of the Nationality & Borders Bill which has come out of the recent ‘New Plan for Immigration’; and reports related to Home Office practice.
Updated 23 October 2021: Manchester demonstration: see here for live video of this event:
Updated 20 October 2021: Refugees Welcome demonstrations/rallies today in Parliament Square, London: See today’s livestream video on the StatusNow Facebook page here: https://fb.watch/8MdpBzyWWk/
Migrant Voice @MigrantVoiceUK tweeted: Mariam Yusuf (@mariamyusuf17) an asylum seeker and colleague from @Statusnow4all network, says “the system is already hard and it’s going to become harder”. https://twitter.com/MigrantVoiceUK/status/1450855782082355204
Our partner organisation @kanlunganuk is here to stand with refugees and all migrants in the UK. They say the #AntiRefugeeBill is yet another instance of the government cracking down on migrant rights under the hostile environment. #RefugeesWelcome@RefugeeTogether
We are down in Parliament Square supporting the #RefugeesWelcome rally! The Government’s #AntiRefugeeBill will have a devastating impact on people seeking asylum. It must scrap these draconian plans. @RefugeeTogether from Parliament Square
Kanlungan Filipino Consortium@kanlunganuk tweeted: We are here in Parliament Square alongside @SwR_UK@refugeecouncil@safepassageuk@JCWI_UK@Statusnow4all@MigrantVoiceUK@migrantsorg to say #RefugeesWelcome!
Great turn out today in Parliament Square for #RefugeesWelcome brilliant speakers and organisations present. Solidarity!
Follow the links above for many more reports from today in London
“Join the Refugees Welcome rally on Wednesday 20 October to defend the right to asylum and to fight the government’s #AntiRefugee bill. Now more than ever, we must speak up to say #RefugeesWelcome! 4:30-6:30 Parliament Square, London”
For more information click here
The rally is being organised by people with experience of the asylum system with support from Solidarity With Refugees, Women for Refugee Women and IMIX, but we want it to belong to us all.
For more details on the Nationality and Borders Bill, this from the JCWI is excellent: https://bit.ly/3z6uMNc
Updated 15 October 2021: Guardian: Priti Patel threatening to use X-rays to verify asylum seekers’ ages
Nationality and borders bill would allow for ‘scientific’ measuring of bones or taking of DNA samples
Priti Patel is threatening to X-ray migrants suspected of lying about their age and impose visa penalties on countries that do not cooperate with deportations of their own citizens, under newly announced plans.
[…] But previous proposals to use dental X-rays to verify the age of migrants have provoked an outcry from doctors and dentists who say they are inaccurate and that it is unethical to take radiographs of people without a health benefit.
Updated 12 October 2021: Guardian: Priti Patel’s borders bill ‘breaches international and domestic law’
Lawyers’ report says bill will lead to multiple challenges under international human rights
Priti Patel’s controversial new borders bill breaches international and domestic law in at least 10 different ways, a report from a team of leading immigration lawyers has concluded.
Four barristers led by the human rights QC Raza Husain claim that the nationality and borders bill, which is moving through parliament, will lead to challenges under international human rights and refugee treaties.
Following 95 pages of legal opinion commissioned by the human rights group Freedom From Torture, they conclude: “This bill represents the biggest legal assault on international refugee law ever seen in the UK.
“The principle at the heart of the bill is the penalisation, both criminally and administratively, of those who arrive by irregular means in the UK to claim asylum and the bill seeks to reverse a number of important decisions of the UK courts, including at the House of Lords and court of appeal level, given over the last 20 years.”
The legal opinion draws up battle lines between the government and human rights lawyers that are likely to be tested in courts if, as expected, the bill passes through parliament and becomes law in the spring.
Updated 8 October 2021: (thanks to No Deportations) Crimes of Arrival in the Nationality and Borders Bill
The Nationality and Borders Bill further criminalises people coming to the UK to seek asylum. It does so by switching the emphasis from ‘entering’ the UK to ‘arriving’ in the UK. The difference is significant. Together with a combination of other powers, it means that people can be stopped from crossing the English Channel in small boats and turned away for criminal behaviour. If by luck they land on the English coastline, they can be prosecuted. But many such people will be asylum seekers, with a right to come to the UK and seek asylum. The proposal ignores the provision of the Refugee Convention (Article 31) that prohibits penalties being imposed on Refugees who enter or are present in a country without authorisation. The result is incompatible with UK international commitments.
Crimes of Arrival: The Nationality and Bill makes several important changes to immigration-related criminal offences. First, it introduces a new provision so that a person who requires entry clearance (such as a visa) under the Immigration Rules and who knowingly arrives in the United Kingdom without a valid entry clearance will commit an offence (clause 37 of the Bill amending section 24 of the Immigration Act 1971). This expands the power to prosecute a person. Currently, immigration offences focus ion ‘entry’ to the UK. But ‘entry’ has a special meaning and presenting yourself on arrival or subsequent temporary admission to the UK does not count as ‘entry’. Further, in reshaping this offence, the Bill makes no provision for a defence under Article 31 of the Refugee Convention.
Read more: Adrian Berry, Cosmopolis, https://is.gd/glBXwm
- The Nationality and Borders Bill1 follows almost to the letter the Government’s New Plan
for Immigration Policy Statement,2 issued on 24 March 2021, in some cases adding
further restrictions on the right to claim asylum and on the rights of refugees. UNHCR
must therefore regretfully reiterate its considered view that the Bill is fundamentally at
odds with the Government’s avowed commitment to upholding the United Kingdom’s
international obligations under the Refugee Convention3 and with the country’s longstanding role as a global champion for the refugee cause.
- We set out below our main areas of concern, reflecting our supervisory role with regard
to the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol (together, “the Refugee Convention”).4
Due to the length and complexity of the Bill, it has not been possible to respond to all of
its clauses in the limited time available. Our lack of comment on any particular clause of
the Bill should not be construed as expressing tacit endorsement of it.
- Read more: https://www.unhcr.org/615ff04d4/unhcr-legal-observations-nationality-and-borders-bill-oct-2021
From European Network on Statelessness: As many of you know, recently, ENS provided evidence to Parliament on the Nationality & Borders Bill, focusing on Part 1, Clause 9 that concerns stateless minors. A recording of the evidence session is available here https://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/362b3398-a90f-4715-9c44-835798a6d83e?in=16:13:12
We have serious concerns that the changes proposed in Clause 9 of the NBB will lead to an increase in childhood statelessness in the UK, unnecessarily leaving more children in limbo and exposed to the detrimental impacts of growing up without a nationality. We therefore submitted that Clause 9 should be dropped.
In addition, we and the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens (PRCBC) and Amnesty International UK, provided a submission to the JCHR Public Bill Committee (you can find a copy here Joint submission to the House of Commons Public Bill Committee https://www.statelessness.eu/updates/publications/joint-submission-uk-house-commons-public-bill-committee-nationality-borders
Updated 23 September 2021: [Thanks No Deportations – Residence Papers for All] IAS: Home Office Admits That Their Immigration Plan Might Not Work
The Home Office has admitted that there is “limited evidence” to suggest that its new plans for the immigration system will reduce the number of migrant Channel crossings. The Home Secretary has made promises to reduce the number of immigrants crossing the English Channel as part of the New Plan for Immigration which she hopes to introduce under the Nationality and Borders Bill, which is currently under review in parliament. But in an impact equality assessment recently released by the Home Office stated that the reforms to the immigration and asylum system carry “significant scope for indirect discrimination” and “potential for direct discrimination on the basis of race”.
Home Office’s Justification: As part of the impact assessment the Home Office responded to the concerns of human rights organisations and admitted that there “may be circumstances where someone faces immediate danger in their country of origin but is not eligible for our refugee resettlement programmes”. In these circumstances the department said that the Home Secretary “may consider such cases, by virtue of their challenging circumstances, to merit the use of discretion to allow individuals to come to the UK”, however it did not make it clear how this would be done.
Read more: Immigration Advisory Service, https://is.gd/hXmE5X
LONDON – As it stands, the UK Nationality and Borders Bill would penalise most refugees seeking asylum in the country via damaging and unjustified penalties, creating an asylum model that undermines established international refugee protection rules and practices, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, said Wednesday.
At the heart of the Bill is the creation of a new, lower class of status to be assigned to the majority refugees – those arriving spontaneously. The Bill would make it a criminal offence for an asylum-seeker who requires entry clearance to arrive in the UK without it; the maximum sentence would be four years’ imprisonment.
“Those arriving irregularly will be stigmatised as unworthy and unwelcome, kept in a precarious status for ten years, denied access to public funds unless destitute. Family reunion will be restricted,” said Rossella Pagliuchi-Lor, UNHCR’s UK Representative. “This is likely to damage mental health and hamper integration for those recognised as refugees. The costs – financial, personal and social — will be high.”
As the Bill moves through Committee stage in the House of Commons, UNHCR urged lawmakers to re-assess parts that would create an unfair two-tier asylum system and cause unnecessary suffering to asylum-seekers. For most asylum-seekers, attempts to transfer to other safe third countries would be made. If that is impossible, access to asylum would be provided but with temporary status, regularly reviewed, with fewer rights and benefits and a constant threat of removal. A minority of refugees – primarily those being resettled – would have more security, and stronger rights and entitlements.
Ms. Pagliuchi-Lor will address the House of Commons Bill Committee on Thursday, outlining a UNHCR legal analysis of the Bill, a summary of which can be seen here.
“This Bill would undermine, not promote, the Government’s stated goal of improving protection for those at risk of persecution. It seems to be aimed at deterring refugees, but there’s no evidence that would be the result,” said Ms. Pagliuchi-Lor. “There’s scope for improving the efficiency of the asylum system. We want to support the UK with that and are heartened that the Home Office is working on it.”
The Bill is based on the premise that people should claim asylum in the “first safe country” they arrive in. But this principle is not found in the 1951 Refugee Convention and there is no such requirement under international law, where primary responsibility for protecting refugees is with the State in which an asylum-seeker arrives.
Requiring all refugees to claim in the first safe country reached would be unworkable and undermine global humanitarian and cooperative principles. Of the world’s 34.4 million refugees and asylum-seekers, 86% are in less wealthy countries. The policy would put even more pressure on such countries and undermine solutions. It might also encourage further refugee movements.
“There are no quick fixes to what is a global problem,” she added. “The humane solution lies in working with neighbours on refugee transfers — and with countries of origin on returns of those who are not refugees and have no right to remain – and improving the UK system.”
“This differentiation of treatment has no basis in international law,” Ms. Pagliuchi-Lor added. “The Convention’s definition of a refugee doesn’t vary according to the route of travel, choice of country of asylum, or the timing of a claim. Are we saying that an Afghan refugee is less deserving in the UK than when in Iran or Pakistan?”
Updated 21 September 2021: Statewatch: UK: Biometric ‘permission to travel’ scheme in Borders Bill will affect tens of millions of people
The attack on the asylum system proposed by the UK government in the Nationality and Borders Bill has provoked outrage. However, the Bill also includes proposals to introduce an electronic ‘permission to travel’ scheme that would involve gathering biometric and other data from tens of millions of people. The UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) is conducting legislative scrutiny on the Bill; Statewatch submitted written observations to the inquiry last week. […]
[extract] Obligations to protect refugees and the prohibition on refoulement (the 1951 Refugee Convention)
The introduction of an ETA may create a barrier to those needing to flee countries owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. Denial of an ETA to an individual needing to flee a country would compel them to undertake a more dangerous route, for example, by using the services of people smugglers.
The data-sharing involved in the travel authorisation system may in itself put a person at risk. Many such schemes involve cross-checking applicants’ data with Interpol’s databases on travel documents, which have been misused by states seeking to persecute their citizens abroad.
The submission highlights that the Bill would create a situation in which decision making on arrivals to the UK will be made by the same body, the Home Office, as the one establishing safeguards on the processing of biometric and personal data. This does not provide sufficient independence and risks jeopardising rights to freedom from discrimination and to a private and family life, and is therefore not compliant Articles 8 and 14 of the ECHR.
The submission argues that the Home Office cannot and should not be trusted with the sensitive personal data of tens of millions of people who do not currently require any form of travel authorisation to travel to the UK. At a very minimum, MPs must demand proper legislative scrutiny over the proposed system in order to ensure that safeguards, checks and balances are properly accounted for in order to ensure that human rights are fully respected and that it is compliant with the ECHR.
- Statewatch submission: Nationality and Borders Bill: Biometric ‘permission to travel’ scheme will affect tens of millions of people
Updated 2 September 2021: Evening Standard: Public’s ‘positive’ response to Afghan refugees impresses UK charities
“Reminder that when you get past the fear-mongering, scapegoating & misinformation, there’s a wealth of goodwill, energy & capacity for welcoming people & respecting their human rights & dignity. How sad some prefer to stir former rather than tap latter.” – Steve Valdez-Symonds https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/charities-people-taliban-uk-government-walsall-b953311.html
Updated 27 August 2021: from signatory organisation Migrant Voice: Channel crossings: time to change course
It’s time to change course. The ill-thought-out strategy of trying to deter asylum seekers from crossing the Channel, pursued by this and previous governments over the past many years, doesn’t work.
The many restrictions introduced – measures to try to deter asylum seekers from reaching the UK at any cost – are fundamentally wrong and merely add further risk to already dangerous journeys.
The new Nationality and Borders Bill which sets out to indefinitely penalise those who make their own journey to the UK is a continuation of this misdirected strategy. The recent revelation of a website set up by the Home Office giving misleading information to asylum seekers is another evidence of their negligent approach to human lives.
The government needs to change course and stop patrolling the sea in an attempt to deter desperate people and instead set up facilities to help people apply for asylum and provide more legal routes.
It is time to adopt a policy that takes into consideration the events in our world today whether political repression or environmental disaster and the reality of the situations from which people are fleeing.
UK and Europe are going about this the wrong way: we cannot go on building walls in the face of desperate people.
You don’t resolve any of these issues by building walls. If people in danger are at your door, you should treat them like the human beings they are and give them sanctuary. We can’t pretend any more that the countries we are deporting people back to are safe when they aren’t.
Throughout history people have moved from place to place in search of safety. This isn’t just happening in the UK or Europe – in fact it’s not happening very much in UK or Europe as most people flee to neighbouring countries and the vast majority are in the global south.
It’s time to change course and welcome those in need of safety.
Updated 24 August 2021: Refugee Action – Crisis in Afghanistan – the anti-refugee bill must be thrown out
It is difficult to imagine how many people’s lives are now at risk as a result of the Taliban swiftly regaining control of Afghanistan. There are reports of violent reprisals, a return to the appalling subjugation of women and well-founded fears of worse to come.
Thousands of people have tried to escape on flights out of the country and millions more are terrified. Our thoughts and hopes are with them. But in a situation unfolding so quickly, we can waste no time in turning from thoughts to concrete action.
The Government has announced the new ‘Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme’ which aims to resettle 5,000 people from Afghanistan in its first year – 20,000 in the longer term.
However, this commitment cannot act as a mask to hide the Government’s real intentions to effectively end the asylum system through its anti-refugee bill (Nationality and Borders Bill).
The UK’s new Nationality and Borders Bill being introduced in Parliament on Tuesday will see thousands more refugees blocked from entering Britain if allowed to move forward, immigration advocates have warned.
Under the new bill, people confirmed to have fled war or persecution would face strengthened checks that could see them blocked from entering the UK based on how they arrived in the country.
Sky News (via Yahoo News) – Activist brands new govt bill ‘anti-refugee’
Bridget Chapman of Kent Refugee Action Network has branded Priti Patel’s new Nationality and Borders Bill an “anti-refugee bill”.
Updated 20 August 2021: with thanks to signatory John O: Afghan Asylum Seekers Who Enter UK Without Permission Would be Criminalised Under Nationality and Borders Bill
A new Home Office factsheet on resettlement routes for Afghan nationals published today on the Home Office media blog has given some further details about the new Afghanistan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme. The scheme was announced by the Government in response to the Taliban taking effective control of Kabul and most of Afghanistan.
Notably, the factsheet suggests that the Nationality and Borders Bill’s proposals to criminalise people who knowingly enter the UK without permission to seek asylum would also apply to Afghans fleeing the current crisis.
Today’s Home Office factsheet confirms, however, that the Nationality and Borders Bill will make it a criminal offence to knowingly enter the UK without permission, and there is no suggestion of any exception being made for Afghans fleeing the current crisis to seek asylum.
Read more: Electronic Immigratin Network, https://is.gd/ax4jXv
UK Proposal for Offshore Processing of Asylum Seekers, Ineffective, Costly and Cruel
With the British government’s new Nationality and Borders Bill proposing legislation to allow the UK to offshore asylum seekers in a similar way, the Kaldor Centre’s report is a timely and important read. The report finds that the Australian model of offshore processing is cruel, costly and ineffective. In particular, the policy:
– Does not deter irregular maritime migration, ‘stop the boats’ or ‘break the business model’ of people smuggling networks;
– Does not ‘save lives at sea’ or achieve any other humanitarian objective; and
– Suffers from other policy failures, including enormous financial costs for Australian taxpayers, violations of fundamental rules of international law, numerous legal challenges and systemic cruelty.
Kaldor Centre stresses that the Australian offshore processing model cannot be implemented in accordance with international law and basic human rights standards. As the driving principle behind the policy is deterrence, this means that the conditions offshore must be as bad as, or worse than, those from which people have fled.
Read more: Electronic Immigration Network, https://is.gd/9YJIDG
The New Plan for Immigration will not “fix the broken asylum system” says Council.
In July, Sheffield City Council wrote an open letter to the Home Secretary and the Home Office urging them to rethink their immigration reform plans in the Nationality and Borders Bill.
These are reforms that will limit ‘official’ routes into the UK, rewarding those that use the ‘legal’ routes, and criminalising anyone who enters the country via an ‘illegal’ route. It’s a bill that is effectively creating a two-tier system in the asylum process. The bill also includes plans to ‘streamline’ asylum claims and appeals by introducing a one-stop process, where migrants would have to raise any and all protection-related issues in the initial assessment, and a ‘good faith’ requirement, which would require migrants to “act in good faith at all times”.
The letter sent by the Council on 23 July outlines how this new Bill will make the work of local authorities that much harder when it comes to helping some of the most vulnerable in society. The Council states that this New Plan for Immigration will not “fix the broken asylum system”, if anything the plan is “likely to worsen the current position, not just for those seeking asylum in the UK, but also for the UK as a host nation and its citizens”.
The Council also mentioned how the creation of a two-tier system of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ migrants will not deter those seeking sanctuary in the UK, “it will simply make their route to safety even more treacherous.” It adds that the problem in the current immigration system doesn’t lie with migrants, but with the process itself.
The need for reform in the system is not due to the number of ‘illegal’ migrants coming to the UK, but due to a “lengthy and complicated process” that leaves many migrants in a state of limbo for long periods of time. And whilst migrants are awaiting their asylum decision from the Home Office, they are unable to work, which then means they have little money to access many key public services, such as housing.
Updated 11 August 2021: Peaceful demonstration: Scottish government Act – Stand against the New Immigration Bill 2 September 2021
This demonstration that was to take place on 17th August has been rescheduled for 6.30pm on 21 September 2021.
Updated 27 July 2021: Evening Standard: Majority opposed to asylum reforms, according to Government consultation
It has been dubbed the anti-refugee Bill by campaigners critical of the plans.
The majority of people who took part in the Government’s consultation on sweeping asylum reforms opposed “many of the policies”, according to the Home Office
Around three quarters of those who took part in the survey on Home Secretary Priti Patel’s new plan for immigration disagreed with a lot of the ideas.
But the process showed there is “some support for these broad ambitions, more so from members of the public”, according to her department.
Ms Patel’s pledge for a “fair but firm” system, brought forward earlier this month under the Government’s Nationality and Borders Bill, intends to make it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK without permission, with tougher sentences for those found doing so and for people smugglers.
Updated 20 July 2021: This lays out Priti Patel’s view of what should come, as the debate on the Bill begins in Parliament: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/home-secretary-opening-speech-for-nationality-borders-bill
This was the debate in Parliament: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-07-19/debates/FC19E458-F75D-480D-A20D-CD1E7ADC937E/NationalityAndBordersBill
You can follow the passage of this Bill here: https://bills.parliament.uk/bills/3023
Updated 19 July 2021: Migrant Voice/Amnesty: Shutting down the UK asylum system: the new immigration bill
Migrant Voice and Amnesty International have released a joint briefing for MPs for the second reading of the government’s Nationality and Borders Bill on 19 July.
The vast majority of this Bill seems to have the purpose of shutting down the asylum system. We therefore strongly oppose most of this Bill, which will undermine the human rights of people affected by our immigration laws. The only element of the Bill we support is Part 1, which seeks to dismantle historical inequalities which have deprived some people of the British nationality that ought to be theirs.
If the Bill is passed in its present form, it will have a devastating impact on people seeking asylum. It will renege on this country’s international law commitments and significantly reduce the already modest contribution made by the UK to provide a place of safety to people forced to flee conflict and persecution.
Its harmful impacts will go much further in at least 3 ways:
- By repudiating its international obligations the UK will provide license and encouragement for others to do the same.
- What is proposed will add complexity, delay, inequality, dysfunction and cost to the asylum system and to the wider immigration system.
- Far from truly tackling the scourge of human exploitation, including by organised crime, the Bill will further empower and enable abusers by rendering the women, men and children on whom they prey ever more vulnerable to that predation.
The second reading of the Bill comes as we prepare to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Refugee Convention on 28 July. This Convention set out a shared responsibility for the nations who are party to it, including the UK, to ensure that the right to seek asylum is available to everyone fleeing conflict or persecution.
This Bill completely undermines the UK’s obligations under the Convention in two interlinked ways.
Firstly, the Bill attempts to unilaterally redraw what are jointly agreed and universally applicable human rights standards affecting both whom the Convention applies to and how such a person is to be treated. This is wrong in principle. If enacted, it is an open invitation to other nations to set their own interpretations of not only this Convention but of international agreements more generally.
Secondly, the Bill penalises refugees who exercise their right to seek asylum in the UK through travelling here on their own. This disadvantages some refugees from others by diminishing, delaying or denying them altogether certain of the rights and opportunities that are provided to others.
The aim of this Bill is to end asylum as we know it. This is despite the UK already receiving relatively few people seeking asylum, and providing sanctuary to very few refugees, compared to its nearest neighbours – let alone several far poorer and less stable countries further afield.
The impact of this legislation will be horrific. Many people will be forced to take significantly more dangerous journeys and fall victim to punishing uncertainty and extreme vulnerability to exploitation. This is to nobody’s advantage but that of those who will abuse, exploit and enslave women, men and children who are too afraid to claim asylum.
You can read Migrant Voice and Amnesty International’s joint briefing by clicking here.
Standing on the steps of Buchanan Street in Glasgow, Lana, who first arrived in Scotland as an asylum seeker, said: “if someone is not desperate, why on earth would they ever risk their three-year-old child’s life in the ocean? We left our country because there were no human rights, and after taking so much risk and arriving here, now this Bill will again take our human rights away from us”.
Last Saturday, she was one of the speakers at a protest against the Nationality and Borders Bill organised by the No Evictions Network in Glasgow.
The No Evictions Network has been central to vital community organising, especially over the past few months. From campaigning for asylum seekers’ housing rights to playing a crucial role in resisting the deportation of two locals at Kenmure Street in May, the Network’s activity reflects the kind of Scotland many residents hope is in our future. Most recently, they have been working to fight Priti Patel’s proposed new “Nationality and Borders Bill” that would impose draconian immigration rules.
The Nationality and Borders Bill (see here for an explainer by Minni Rahman for gal-dem), which will receive its second reading in the house of Commons on Monday 19th July, has received heavy criticism from activists for its criminalisation of refugees and asylum seekers. No Evictions highlight that “The UK signed up to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which gives a strong legal basis to claim asylum” — a commitment that this bill fails to uphold.
17 July 2021: Equal Society Movement@SocietyEqual We are new Scots.
We are not illegal
That’s what Glasgow said today!
Updated 13 July 2021: StatusNow4All signatory Migrants Organise writes: Radical solidarity is the only answer to the new hostile environment immigration bill
If the latest Immigration Bill is leaving you with a sense of déjà vu- do not worry- you are not alone. This is all in the government’s plan for chaos and confusion.
[…] Three things you can do now:
- Write to your MP before the second reading of the Bill on the 19th July. Speak from the heart and share your concerns about this hostile bill and your demands for a better system. Use this as a chance to organise and build relationships with your MPs and allies.
- Sign and share the Fair Immigration Charter – use your social media channels or talk to your friends – spread the word about unity, solidarity and better vision for the future.
- Get involved, join actions and organise – check out upcoming Abolish Reporting actions on 15 July. Stay in touch and organise locally and nationally, and join our regular monthly organising meetings.
Zrinka Bralo and Migrants Organise team
Read the whole post here: http://www.migrantsorganise.org/?p=30321
Updated 12 July 2021: Independent: Home Office forced to pay out £9.3m in compensation for over 300 cases of unlawful detention last year
Department spent £25,500 a day on people wrongly detained
The Home Office was forced to pay out a record in compensation for wrongful detention under immigration powers last year.
Payouts amounting to £9.3m were made to 330 people – roughly £25,500 a day in the 12 months to April 5.
Updated 11 July 2021: Guardian: Home Office ‘acting unlawfully’ in rush to deport asylum seekers
Hundreds of people arriving in England in small boats are being immediately detained in immigration removal centres, raising fears of a new, secret Home Office policy to deport them without their asylum claims being properly considered.
Among the detainees are apparent trafficking and torture victims from countries including Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, who would normally be allowed asylum accommodation in the community while their claims are processed but instead are effectively imprisoned.
Children are also among those who have crossed the Channel and have been sent directly to immigration removal centres, with solicitors claiming the Home Office has classed minors as adults despite not age-assessing them in person.
Some small-boat asylum seekers have been denied access to a lawyer since early May after landing and being immediately detained in a removal centre.
Campaigners said the development was “not the act of a civilised and compassionate nation”.
The outcry follows the publication of home secretary Priti Patel’s nationality and borders bill on Tuesday. It claims to reform the asylum system but has been described by the UN as having an “almost neocolonial approach” in allowing the UK to shirk its international responsibilities to refugees.
Immigration lawyers say the apparent undisclosed policy change, which appears to have been introduced over the past two months, is unlawful and they are preparing to challenge it.
Toufique Hossain, director of public law and immigration at Duncan Lewis, described it as a potentially “grave abuse of power”.
Updated 10 July 2021: The Times: CPS blows hole in Priti Patel’s asylum seeker bill
Priti Patel’s laws to crack down on asylum seekers crossing the Channel were dealt a blow yesterday when the Crown Prosecution Service said that it would no longer prosecute migrants.
An agreement struck between police, prosecutors, the National Crime Agency, Border Force and the Home Office over cases involving “illegal entry” will also apply to those arriving by lorry.
Updated 9 July 2021: from signatory organisation Positive Action in Housing:
On Monday, the Home Office published the Nationality and Borders Bill. Its central aim is to criminalise anyone arriving in the UK to claim asylum through “irregular routes” – for instance on a dinghy or the back of a lorry. Most asylum seekers do not come to Europe, and those that do want to come here, do so because of language familiarity or for existing support networks such as family members.
With this Bill, the UK is torching its international human rights obligations under the 1951 refugee convention. We are in danger of committing crimes against humanity by turning back those in need of safety and treating them as criminals.
Human beings will be judged by how they entered the UK, rather than the dangers they face from countries they fled.
With the “new borders bill” the UK is torching its international human rights obligations under the 1951 refugee convention. We are in danger of committing crimes against humanity by turning back those in need of safety and treating them as criminals. History will shame us.
Human beings will be judged by how they entered the UK, rather than the dangers they face from countries they fled.
The plans for the removal of asylum seekers to off shore asylum processing centres in the Ascension islands, disused ferries and abandoned oil rigs will mean men, women and children being left in limbo for years, out of sight and out of mind.
Any human rights abuses committed against genuine refugees will be hidden from public scrutiny; more will self-harm or attempt suicide as they are detained long term; and many more refugees will drown on British shores trying to get here.
The human smugglers only “flourish” because Europe is blocking centuries old migration routes and making crossings ever more dangerous. Harsher sentences will not stop human smuggling, the provision of safe routes will.
This bill means that 9,000 people who would be accepted as refugees under current rules – those confirmed to have fled war or persecution by official checks – may no longer be given safety in the UK due to their method of arrival. For decades people have taken “extraordinary measures to flee oppression but went on to become law-abiding citizens paying their taxes.
The broken asylum system has nothing to do with asylum seekers and everything to do with years of neglect by Ministers of Home Office systems and processes.
This in turn has led to delays for months and years for those seeking asylum from countries like Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, all countries with known records of human rights abuses and persecution.
The Home Office contractors bidding to run these offshore processing centres will be rubbing their hands in glee at the billions coming their way.
Of course, the UK doesn’t actually have a refugee “problem” – the numbers coming in each year are low (one third of the numbers in 2003) and falling – not rising. And most of the “migrants” who “knowingly” arrive in the U.K. “without permission” are genuine refugees according to the Home Office’s own statistics.
While many people seeking asylum arrive by plane, focusing on asylum seekers entering the UK by boat is misleading. Further, portraying them as shore invaders is manipulation meant to make people perceive all foreigners as threats, and prepare for the abandonment of basic principles that the UK so proudly called its contribution to the world.
Refugees are the mere scapegoat for Patel’s political ambitions. The Home Secretary wants to look “tough” on “migrants”.
In essence the new Borders Bill is an anti refugee bill that will cause misery to thousands of people and pointless billions to administer . This will be Priti Patel’s toxic legacy as home secretary, herself the child of immigrants: the further embedding of a racist, hostile, xenophobic environment into British society.
7 July 2021: Westminster Hall debate: Debate: Delays in the asylum system
I beg to move,
That this House has considered delays in the asylum system.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Mundell. I thank the many Members attending the debate for their ongoing efforts to push the Government to address the delays in the asylum system. It is shocking that not a single Conservative Member thought it necessary to take part in a debate on such an important issue.
I pay tribute to the many organisations and charities that campaign tirelessly to raise awareness of the issue, as well as those—including the Refugee Council, Detention Action, the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit, and Lift the Ban, to name just a few—that provide vital support to some of the most vulnerable people on our planet. So many people are worthy of recognition for their incredible work, such as Councillor Wilson Nkurunziza, Councillor Irfan Syed and Stockport’s own Mrs Sandy Broadhurst. There are also those who do so much at national level to keep the issue at the forefront of everyone’s minds, such as Lord Alf Dubs.
In my region, Refugee Action Manchester and the Refugee Council provide life-saving and life-changing support to asylum seekers, while Stockport Baptist church in my constituency has done so much over the years to help to raise funds to provide accommodation, food, pocket money and transport to those in need. I am grateful to the volunteers from the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit, who support the incredibly vulnerable people who are subject to immigration control. Significantly, they have worked with local authorities across Greater Manchester, and seven of the 10 councils have signed up to remote asylum interviewing for looked-after children: Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford and Wigan.
Our country has a proud history of standing up for and protecting refugees, who are among the most vulnerable people on earth, having undertaken perilous journeys to reach our shores to seek sanctuary from the very worst of humanity. We are the fifth richest country in the world and that is absolutely the right thing to do. It is also right that our country provides shelter to people—not excluding them, but enabling them to earn a living to support themselves and their family.
I am proud that my part of the world, the north-west, is the largest asylum dispersal conurbation in the UK, housing 25% of our country’s applicants, with 70% of those living in Greater Manchester. Data provided by the House of Commons Library reveals that 138 asylum seekers are based in Stockport and more than 6,000 in Greater Manchester as a whole, which is two thirds of the total in the north-west region. It is heart-warming to see how my community has embraced those people and helped them to integrate into our community. I have long been an admirer of the work of Stockport Baptist church, whose congregation and supporters have raised funds to support refugees with food, pocket money, accommodation and transport costs.
It cannot be right, however, that so many are simply stuck in the system for long periods, unsure of what their fate will be. Detention Action revealed that more than half of the almost 40,000 people in detention centres have been waiting for a decision for more than a year. A similar number have been waiting for up to five years, with almost 25,000 people indefinitely detained last year.
Greater Manchester Immigration Aid provides urgent assistance to more than 50 young people who have been waiting the best part of a year for an asylum decision, despite half already having had a remote interview. Even when the asylum system is functioning marginally more efficiently, the average wait for those handled by my local unit is 51 days, with the longest wait being 82 days—almost three months. That is completely unacceptable, and it involves the livelihoods of some of the poorest people in our society, including young people.
It is vital that the Government look again at how those in the system are treated. One issue that must be addressed is the Aspen card handover debacle. I focus on that issue because it reflects many of the problems in the system. Aspen is a debit payment card given to UK asylum seekers by the Home Office to provide basic subsistence support via a chip-and-pin system. However, purchases made using the card are closely monitored by the Home Office, making it an insidious surveillance tool. Recently, the Home Office switched providers, which proved nothing short of disastrous owing to the 48-hour period between the old card being deactivated and the new one going live, forcing people to live off what little means they had.
That is just one of myriad problems, from claimants not receiving their cards to their receiving cards carrying the wrong name, cards without money on them or cards that do not work, or people being unable to activate their cards. When cards were not working, asylum seekers could apply for emergency cash payments from accommodation providers, but those have been inconsistently applied and people could not access any more payments. There are stories from the Refugee Council of such people having to survive for days without food.
That is an absolute disgrace, and it can never be allowed to happen again. Why was it even allowed to happen in the first place? Perhaps the Minister will answer that question today. However, well before the card changeover took place, multiple organisations forewarned the Home Office that there could be problems, and it is clear they were simply not listened to. When the matter was raised in Parliament, the Government attempted to give the impression that it was a minor issue, rather than one that had gone on for weeks. Their claims could not be further from the truth, with many asylum experts describing the Government’s handling of the issue as the worst failure they have seen in the system. That is why the likes of Asylum Matters are continuing to raise awareness of it—they want the Home Office not only to acknowledge its failings, but to learn from them so that we never again put the neediest people in society in this desperate situation.
There are also well documented and widespread concerns about the way women are dealt with in the asylum process, particularly whether that process is sensitive to specific issues faced by women. The expectation that a woman has been the victim of domestic abuse or rape, and will be able to disclose that during her interview with a UK visa and immigration caseworker, has been pointed to as a serious problem.
There cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach. We must acknowledge that these are incredibly vulnerable people in the most desperate of circumstances and act accordingly. That means shining a light on the failings of the system, rather than demonising those within it. Just last month, asylum seekers held at the Home Office’s widely criticised Napier military barracks claimed they would be blacklisted if they spoke out following the High Court ruling that to use the site was unlawful. That included them being told that their asylum application would be at risk if they talked to the media about conditions at the camp. Instead of attacking those in the barracks who are in conditions described as “squalid” during the successful legal challenge, the Government should have acted immediately to close the camp.
The failures in our system cause untold distress and are a considerable factor in the high levels of mental health problems among asylum seekers. Refugees are five times more likely to have mental health needs than people in the general UK population, while 61% report that they have suffered serious mental distress as a result of their ordeal, including higher rates of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety disorders.
The way the Government treat asylum seekers in this country—the fifth richest in the world—is truly shameful. That lack of humanity was exposed during the 2015 migrant crisis when our European counterparts, such as Germany, showed benevolence, true compassion and leadership by giving asylum to more than 1 million people fleeing war in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. In stark contrast, the UK allowed a paltry 25,000 the safety and sanctuary of our shores.
I am sure Members on both sides of the House agree that on this issue language is important. Asylum seekers are people—fellow human beings who deserve to be treated with respect and in a fair manner—and following a decade when we have experienced the hostile environment orchestrated by the Home Office under this Government, I urge the Minister to do the right thing and offer those people a route out of poverty and destitution.
We do not need more distressing words and scenes from the Home Secretary. Sadly, just yesterday, we bore witness to the Home Secretary’s latest demonisation of migrants, with her shamefully describing those vulnerable people as “vile criminals”, smearing the vast majority of honest, law-abiding citizens who seek sanctuary in our country. As HOPE not hate made clear in its response, the Home Secretary’s words were disgraceful.
The Home Secretary also set out callous plans with proposals revealed for new legislation that will pave the way for offshore centres for asylum seekers, and criminal charges for migrants arriving in the UK without permission. The new laws will likely see thousands of refugees turned away and vulnerable migrants criminalised for seeking a better life. Furthermore, a Refugee Council analysis of Home Office data suggests that 9,000 people who would be accepted as refugees under the current rules—those confirmed by official checks to have left war and persecution—might no longer be given safety in the UK because of how they arrived. That really would be an all-time low for this Government.
The Government must do more to enable those seeking asylum to have the right to work. Last year, the Lift the Ban campaign—a coalition of more than 240 charities and trade unions, including Unison, the National Education Union and the NASUWT, as well as businesses, faith groups and think-tanks—presented the Home Office with a petition signed by more than 180,000 people, which called on the Government to lift the ban. They are still waiting for that ban to be overturned, which is why I recently tabled an early-day motion, which has been signed by 42 MPs to date. It calls on the Government to
“recognise the injustice of preventing people seeking asylum from working”,
particularly when they are forced to live on a derisory £5.66 a day. After all, that is in the Government’s own interest: if those seeking asylum had the right to work, that would lead to fewer support payments and increased income tax and national insurance receipts of up to £100 million for the public purse.
The bottom line is that the pandemic has exposed the harsh reality that asylum seekers cannot be safe under such restrictive rules. Far from being looked after, they are forced to depend on tiny handouts each day and to choose between food, medicine and hygiene products, while being prevented from having the dignity of work.
The Government must do far more to address their unfair dispersal system. The majority of asylum seekers are housed in disadvantaged local authority areas while dozens of councils support none at all. Figures show that more than half of those who seek asylum or who have been brought to Britain for resettlement are accommodated by just 6% of local councils, all of which have household incomes that are below average.
Finally, the Government must heed the United Nations Human Rights Council proposal to reform the registration, screening and decision making process, including introducing an effective triaging and prioritisation system, as well as simplified asylum case processing and front-loading the asylum system to enable more information to be gathered earlier in the process.
It is time our Government stopped their gunboat diplomacy and treated asylum seekers with the dignity and humanity that they deserve. When most are fleeing war-torn countries that the UK helped to play a role in devastating, that is surely the very least we can do.
[…] read the full debate
I am incredibly grateful to all hon. Members who contributed to the debate and brought many powerful stories from constituency casework. I thank the Minister for his contribution, although I must highlight that he did not comment on the Aspen card disaster and people being left without food or hygiene products, or on my remarks on the special requirements for women asylum seekers fleeing domestic abuse and rape. The one-size-fits-all approach simply does not work. Asylum seekers and refugees are five times more likely than British nationals to have serious mental health issues.
Clearly, there is a lot of appetite among MPs for the Government to lift the ban on people working. Just over £5 a day is simply unacceptable. We also want to see an end to the toxic and divisive language from the Home Office, the Home Secretary and some MPs on the Government Benches. Treating people like insects is not acceptable; everyone deserves decency and respect. We also want proper financial support for local authorities that support asylum seekers. We have a system whereby some local authorities support asylum seekers and will accept them, while others do not—that needs to be changed. We need reform to the system.
Read more here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2021-07-07/debates/E660849B-8111-4A50-A764-9E674EEF79EB/DelaysInTheAsylumSystem?highlight=delays%20asylum%20system#contribution-96AD353B-CDE7-413C-944A-B6A99A6485C6
Update 7 July 2021: Guardian: UK to block visas for countries refusing to take back asylum seekers
Bill would give home secretary power to take action against citizens of countries deemed not to be cooperating …
Sonya Sceats, chief executive of Freedom from Torture, described the plans as “dripping with cruelty” and an “affront to the caring people in this country who want a kinder, fairer approach to refugees”.
Update 6 July 2021: Free Movement: The Nationality and Borders Bill 2021: first impressions
The much-hyped Nationality and Borders Bill is here. It mainly addresses asylum issues but there are some nationality provisions included as well, which we have already covered and will return to in another article soon.
My first impressions, reading through the Bill, are that
- A lot of it is already law so it isn’t actually very new at all.
- The bits that are new are likely to lead to a lot of uncertainty and litigation, which is good for lawyers but bad for refugees and the public purse.
- There is some genuine nastiness included.
- The Bill will only worsen the problems with the United Kingdom’s current asylum system.
The major problem with that system is that it takes far too long for the Home Office to decide an asylum claim. The number of people waiting more than 12 months for an initial decision was over 33,000 last year (ten times the number in 2010), according to recent research by the Refugee Council. This is bad for genuine refugees. It is, arguably, good for those whose cases ultimately fail.
Next steps and how we fight back
The publication of the bill marks the start of its journey through Parliament, and MPs will debate the proposoals in the near future. This is the first opportunity to show the strength of opposition to these changes, and you can call on your MP to stand up for refugees here.
However, the campaign for a fair asylum system, with refugee protection at its heart, does not begin or end in Parliament. We want to build a mass campaign of people that won’t stand by while the Government turns its back on those who need protection. Please keep an eye out for more on this in the coming months from us.
Priti Patel’s statement can be found here: https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-statements/detail/2021-07-06/hcws151
Update 6 July 2021: Guardian: Judge tells Priti Patel to bring asylum seeker back to UK
High court says home secretary should use her ‘best endeavours’ to bring back Sudanese man so his trafficking and torture claims can be investigated
Priti Patel should bring back to the UK a small boat asylum seeker who was removed to France in the next 14 days, the high court has ruled.
In a ruling published on Tuesday, the day that Patel launched her nationality and borders bill, which she hopes will make it easier to remove asylum seekers who arrive in small boats, Mr Justice Wall ordered that the home secretary use her “best endeavours” to bring back a 38-year-old Sudanese asylum seeker from Darfur who can only be identified by the initials AA.
Update 4 July 2021: Today’s suggestions from Priti Patel: the proposed legislation intends to make it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK without permission, with the maximum sentence for those entering the country unlawfully rising from six months’ imprisonment to four years.
The Government also plans to also increase the tariff for people smugglers, with those found guilty facing life behind bars – up from the current maximum of 14 years.
Migrants caught arriving in the UK without permission could face up to four years in prison under legislation, but charities say asylum-seekers are forced to risk lives due to lack of safe routes
The home secretary has announced that migrants seeking to cross the English Channel on small boats, and the people-smugglers enabling them, are to face more severe prison sentence in a bid to deter illegal crossings.
The move is part of the Nationality and Borders Bill, and is intended to fix the UK’s “broken asylum system” Priti Patel said.
Migrants seeking to make their way to the UK on small boats, and their people-smuggling enablers, will face heavier prison sentences in a bid to prevent “asylum shopping”, the Home Office has announced.
The stricter enforcements form part of the Nationality and Borders Bill, which is due for its first reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday, as part of Home Secretary Priti Patel’s pledge to “fix” the UK’s “broken asylum system”.
The proposed legislation intends to make it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK without permission, with the maximum sentence for those entering the country unlawfully rising from six months’ imprisonment to four years.
The Government also plans to also increase the tariff for people smugglers, with those found guilty facing life behind bars – up from the current maximum of 14 years.
The Home Office said the sterner punishments were a bid to prevent “asylum shopping”, claiming that some migrants are allegedly “picking the UK as a preferred destination over others” when asylum could have been claimed earlier in their journey through Europe.
A clause contained in the legislation will broaden the offence of arriving unlawfully so that it encompasses arrival, as well as entry into the UK.
The moves is designed allow those who are intercepted in UK territorial seas to be brought into the country to be prosecuted, aides said.
Updated 27 May 2021: Amnesty International: UK: ‘Reckless’ new plan on immigration sees major decline in processing asylum claims
Quarterly immigration statistics published by Home Office today: Long outstanding asylum claims 50% higher than a year ago
‘The Home Office’s new asylum rules are reckless and impractical’ – Steve Valdez-Symonds
New statistics published today by the Home Office show that immigration rules introduced by the Home Secretary last December have led to more than 1,500 people who have sought asylum in the UK being warned the Home Office is looking to send them to other countries. Although there are no agreements in place for those countries to accept responsibility for their asylum claims. To date, none of these people have been removed from the UK.
Reacting to the new quarterly statistics – which provide official information on the UK’s immigration system, including people coming to the UK, applying for asylum, and being detained or removed – Amnesty International said the new rules were “reckless and impractical”.
The new rules introduced at the start of the year are integral to the Government’s “plan”, announced in March, which seeks to largely dismantle the UK’s existing asylum system, including by refusing to consider many claims on the basis that people will be sent instead to other countries to have their claims dealt with by those countries. However, as many experts and critics have predicted, it is unlikely that other countries will be willing to receive from the UK people seeking asylum here.
Today’s data shows that so far nobody refused admission to the UK’s asylum system under the new rules has been accepted by a third country. Ultimately, if someone is not accepted by another country, the UK will have to consider the person’s asylum claim. As experts have warned, these new rules risk doing no more than adding to Home Office delays and backlogs.
Key findings from the quarterly statistics, which show a significant decline in the UK providing protection to people seeking asylum, are as follows:
- The UK granted leave to remain for 8,640 people (including dependants) in the year ending March 2021
- This figure is around half (42%) of the number in the year ending March 2020, and the lowest level since 2012
- In the year ending March 2021, there were 12,968 initial decisions made on asylum applications, and just under half (48%) of these were grants of asylum and humanitarian protection
- Twelve months ago, the figure of asylum claims awaiting an initial decision after more than 6 months was 31,516. It has now reached 50,084, indicating major delays within the system
Steve Valdez-Symonds, Refugee and Migrant Rights Director at Amnesty International UK, said:
“The Home Office’s new asylum rules are reckless and impractical – and are not in keeping with the spirit and purpose of international refugee law.
“As predicted, today’s data shows that so far nobody refused admission to the UK’s asylum system under the new rules has been accepted by any other country.
“With these rules, the Home Secretary has merely introduced more uncertainty and delay which causes immense anxiety to people seeking asylum while adding to the mountain of existing backlogs.
“We don’t need these oppressive new laws and rules – we need the Home Secretary to focus on making the UK asylum system more accessible, reducing not adding to delays and improving the quality of decision-making so women, men and child refugees receive the protection of this country to which they are entitled.”
Updated 10 May 2021: Guardian: EU countries snub Priti Patel’s plans to return asylum seekers
UN criticises the proposals as so damaging they risked Britain’s ‘global credibility’
Not a single European country has decided to support the UK government’s controversial asylum plans, with the UN on Saturday night criticising the proposals as so damaging they risked Britain’s “global credibility”.
Six weeks after the home secretary, Priti Patel, unveiled a sweeping immigration overhaul that included deporting migrants who enter the UK illegally to safe countries such as “France and other EU countries”, sources have said the Home Office has been unable to persuade any European state to sign up to the scheme.
The UN’s refugee agency will soon publish its detailed legal opinion into Patel’s asylum proposals that is likely to conclude her plans infringe international legislation and are unworkable. Despite this, Patel’s asylum proposals are to feature in the Queen’s speech on Tuesday, which lays out the government’s legislative agenda for the next year.
In damning indictment of Home Office’s proposed immigration overhaul, solicitors body warns reforms would ‘make a mockery of British fair play’ and risk ‘overturning’ principle that everyone is equal
In an 81-page consultation response to the plans, Law Society president I Stephanie Boyce warned that penalising asylum seekers who reach UK shores by “so-called irregular routes”, such as by boat, risked breaching international law by creating a “two-tier asylum system”. “The proposals seek to push asylum-seekers who reach the UK by irregular routes into destitution or homelessness as a way of coercing them to leave the country. Extremely vulnerable people seeking asylum are exercising their legal right to escape human rights abuses – to penalise them in this way could constitute a further abuse. Punishing victims of crime is not acceptable in a civilised, democratic country which upholds the rule of law.
Read more: Independent, https://is.gd/Ni2K8y
30 April 2021: Women for Refugee Women: New Plan will harm women:
OVER 70 LEADERS WORKING WITH REFUGEE WOMEN COME TOGETHER TO HIGHLIGHT TO THE HOME SECRETARY THAT HER NEW PLAN FOR IMMIGRATION WILL HARM WOMEN
The government’s New Plan for Immigration will harm women seeking asylum. Today, 30 April 2020, more than 70 leaders of organisations and groups supporting women who have sought asylum write to the Home Secretary to express shared concerns about the New Plan.
Read the full letter below:
Dear Home Secretary,
Re: Impact of proposed New Plan for Immigration on women seeking asylum
We are writing to express our serious concerns over the proposed New Plan for Immigration (New Plan) and its potentially devastating effects on women seeking safety. Most of our organisations and groups support women who have fled sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). Yet, despite these horrific experiences, many are failed by an asylum system which subjects them to disbelief, detention and destitution. On 24th March, you asked “where are the vulnerable women…that this system should exist to protect?” If introduced, the proposals would make things even worse for women in desperate need of refuge.
The changes would have harmful effects on both men and women. In this letter we highlight the impact on women, as these experiences are too often unheard.
- Treatment of asylum-seeking women who arrive by irregular routes
We are alarmed by proposals that unjustly differentiate between vulnerable people who have fled danger, based on how they have travelled to the UK.
Temporary protection status
Our organisations work with women who have fled rape, forced prostitution, trafficking, honour-based abuse and female genital mutilation. Many of these women are sexually or physically abused again when they travel to the UK, journeys that sometimes involve irregular routes so that they can quickly escape danger. There is a real risk that temporary protection status would result in some of the most vulnerable women being refused asylum – women who instead would be condemned to destitution, detention and possible removal to the countries where their lives remain in danger.
The absence of gender in the UN Refugee Convention makes the assessment of many women’s cases complex, and particularly when they involve persecution by private individuals as opposed to the state. Home Office guidance reminds us that “[v]iolence against women can occur more commonly within the family or community.” Yet, decision-makers have often shown a poor understanding of how private violence falls within the UN Refugee Convention, and the UK’s obligation to grant asylum. Under the proposed temporary status, cases would be reviewed every 30 months with a view to return to the country of origin or removal to a third country. Having to periodically demonstrate the need for safety is likely to be harmful for all women who have survived SGBV, and especially for those who have fled private violence.
We are concerned that the proposed reception centres could amount to a form of indefinite detention that would not only be retraumatising for women who have survived SGBV but also a barrier to disclosing their experiences. The New Plan cites the example of Denmark, even though the small amounts of financial support coupled with “the distance between asylum centres…and towns or cities, means people are effectively confined” there.
The same study also shows how asylum centres can be completely inappropriate for survivors of SGBV and trafficking to heal. Detaining women who have already survived trauma and violence inflicts immense harm and retraumatises them, particularly when there is no time limit. The New Plan states that the Home Office will first attempt to remove a person who has come to the UK irregularly and, where that is not possible within six months, will start to process their asylum claim. It is very likely therefore that many women will be deprived of their liberty for several months, if not longer. Research has found that the longer someone is held in immigration detention, the greater the effect on their mental health. In forcing women to relive traumatic memories of confinement and abuse, the reception centres could prevent disclosure and, therefore, a fair assessment of their claims.
- ‘One-stop’ process
We are very concerned that the ‘one-stop’ process could result in many women being wrongly refused asylum. The process would force traumatised women to raise all the reasons for why they need protection at the outset, with “minimal weight” given to evidence raised later in the process “unless there is good reason”. Yet there are many reasons for why women who have survived SGBV cannot disclose all relevant experiences at the initial stage; the Home Office’s own guidance acknowledges these barriers, that include “guilt, shame, concerns about family ‘honour’ or fear of family members.” The same guidance also acknowledges that women who have been trafficked to the UK may be facing threats from their traffickers at the time of their asylum interview, such that they are unable to speak openly with officials. Some LGBT women, who have fled persecution because of their sexual orientation, are not able to speak about their sexuality during the time of their initial asylum claim; they may still be coming to terms with it themselves, a process that can take many years. All of these challenges are exacerbated by a lack of specialist mental health and quality legal support. Most women that Women for Refugee Women support have not received adequate legal representation for their initial claim; some women have not had any legal advice at all.
It is vital that our asylum system allows all women to be heard. To that end, Home Office guidance states that late disclosure should not automatically prejudice a woman’s credibility. It is unclear then why the department is now considering changes that go against these standards.
- ‘Well-founded fear of persecution’ test
Proposals to introduce a ‘balance of probabilities’ standard are said to be necessary to “[make] it harder for unmeritorious claims to succeed.” Yet the UN Refugee Convention is based on the principle of ‘benefit of the doubt’, in favour of the person seeking safety. A more severe test would only increase the barriers that already exist for vulnerable women to obtain a fair assessment.
- Fast-track appeals process and accelerated claims and appeals process from detention
We are extremely concerned that any form of accelerated processing could have a harmful effect on women with complex gender-based or trafficking claims. We would like to remind the Home Secretary of the Detained Fast Track and the devastating effects it had on women’s chances of successfully claiming asylum. The process was deemed unlawful by the Court of Appeal for being “systematically unfair”, with the Home Office refusing a staggering 99% of claims, compared to around 59% of non-fast track applications. It was also inherently unsuitable for complex cases, heavily criticised for its handling of gender-related and trafficking claims. Indeed, women from some of the most oppressive countries who faced persecution were wrongly refused asylum and deported as a result of the Detained Fast Track.
- Modern Slavery
We are disturbed by proposals to limit the protection of actual or potential victims of modern slavery.
Legal standard for a reasonable grounds decision
Proposals to strengthen the evidence threshold for deciding whether someone is a potential victim are said to be necessary to stop people claiming to be trafficking victims in order to prevent removal from the UK. Yet it can take many months for a woman who has been forced into sexual exploitation to speak about the abuse she has suffered. It is therefore vital that potential victims are given a window to access support such as safe housing. We would like to remind the Home Secretary that a positive reasonable grounds decision is not the end of the matter; to be officially confirmed as a victim of trafficking then requires a positive conclusive grounds decision. We are concerned that a higher standard of proof at the first stage would harm some of the most vulnerable women, keeping them in the hands of their traffickers. It would also ignore the government’s own statistics which show that the majority of people in immigration detention who are referred into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) are subsequently recognised by the Home Office as potential victims of trafficking.
The ‘public order exemption’
We object to amendments to the ‘public order exemption’ that would deny access to the NRM and associated protections to certain women who may be victims of trafficking, including those with a criminal sentence of 12 months or more. Some of our organisations are aware of women who have been subject to sexual and other forms of labour exploitation, who have been prosecuted and imprisoned for criminal offences related to their exploitation, and who need protection.
Last year, you spoke of your commitment to a “more compassionate approach”, a Home Office that saw “people not cases”. However, a genuine commitment to compassion would not result in these proposals. We strongly urge you to reconsider your approach, and to listen to the women who have sought safety in this country.
Bodies say survey is poorly designed, rushed and may exclude refugees from responding
Almost 200 organisations have branded a government consultation on fundamental changes to refugee policy “a sham”.
A total of 192 refugee, human rights, legal and faith groups have signed a public statement condemning the six-week consultation on the government’s New Plan for Immigration as “vague, unworkable, cruel and potentially unlawful”.
The Home Office states that the consultation, which ends on 6 May, is about plans to make the asylum and immigration system fairer and more efficient, to deter illegal entry and to enable the government to more easily remove people they say have no right to be in the UK.