I signed an open letter last week (along with the Mayor & Deputy Mayor, Bristol MPs, Councillors, and local religious and charity groups) rejecting the Government’s new anti-refugee immigration law. Priti Patel’s Nationality and Borders Bill will criminalise those who seek protection and sanctuary, with the potential for six months to four years imprisonment.
The legislation would distinguish and then determine asylum claims by how the person travelled to the UK. Those seeking refuge from war and persecution through ‘improper channels’ would face instant deportation and could be sent to inhumane offshore detention camps. This is no way to treat fellow human beings and feeds into a narrative of the deserving and the undeserving.
This week we’ve seen disgusting attempts from the likes of Nigel Farage to whip up hatred as he attacks the RNLI for refusing to let migrant children drown. As the joint-letter ends –
“Penalising people for seeking sanctuary here through irregular routes is unfair and unjust, especially when there is little other option. The Home Office says that “Britain needs a firm but fair system.” We believe that this is anything but fair.”
“We had become increasingly concerned at the hostile and dehumanising rhetoric from the Home Office, and the Home Secretary in particular, around people seeking sanctuary. This concern was compounded with the announcement earlier this year of new government proposals which threaten the right to seek asylum in the United Kingdom – a right enshrined in international law more than half a century ago. Penalising people and threatening their asylum claims based on how they travel to seek asylum contravenes this right and undermines our history of offering sanctuary to people who need it.
The proposals would punish people forced to take “irregular” routes to claim asylum in the UK, deeming them “inadmissible” to the asylum system. They would then be targeted for removal from the UK. If they could not be removed, then they would be given temporary protection with less entitlement to support and family reunion rights*. This temporary protection would mean that people would be regularly reassessed for removal, a system which would create a huge burden of uncertainty and fear amongst those seeking sanctuary.
The proposals also include the possibility of offshore processing, amending the National Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 to make it possible to move people whilst an asylum claim is pending. We have seen various reported suggestions for locations but what remains is that, as we have seen in Australia, offshore processing is an inhumane and dangerous way to treat our fellow human beings.
The policy also creates a dichotomy of deserving and undeserving; those few who are able to come through government resettlement schemes versus the majority who are forced to take irregular routes into the country. We wish that people did not have to resort to risking their lives to enter the UK and have long campaigned for safe and legal routes that take away this need. However, introducing punitive measures against people who are forced to enter through irregular routes is not the answer.
In her speech to the House of Commons, Priti Patel referred to “illegal arrivals.” Language such as this demonises and dehumanises; no one is illegal, and it is a dangerous narrative to pursue. People seek asylum here because of war, persecution and violence; they have fled some of the most unspeakable horrors and should be offered protection, not criminalised.
Under international law, anyone has the right to apply for asylum in any country that has signed the 1951 Convention and to remain there until the authorities have assessed their claim. It is also recognised in the Convention that people fleeing persecution may have to use irregular means in order to escape and to claim asylum in another country, and there is no legal way to travel to the UK for the specific purpose of seeking asylum. Moreover, there is no requirement under international law that asylum must be sought in the first safe country that the person encounters.
We agree that the asylum system needs a massive overhaul. In its current state it is ineffective and inhumane; these proposals will only make that worse. Penalising people for seeking sanctuary here through irregular routes is unfair and unjust, especially when there is little other option. The Home Office says that “Britain needs a firm but fair system.” We believe that this is anything but fair.”
*The wording of the Bill does not state this as definite, but allows for the possibility of differential treatment, including an attachment of No Recourse to Public Funds to any leave to remain given and whether leave to remain is given to family members. The New Plan for Immigration stated that this was the intention and we have no reason to believe that if the Bill passes, this will not be the case.
Initial signatories include:
Bristol City of Sanctuary
Ashley Community Housing
Avon Fire Brigades Union
Bridges for Communities
Bristol Defend Asylum Seekers Campaign
Bristol Hospitality Network
Bristol Green Group of Councillors
Bristol Labour Group of Councillors
Bristol Liberal Democrats of Councillors
Bristol Refugee Festival
Bristol Refugee Rights
Caring in Bristol
Centre for the Study of Bible and Violence
Cllr Asher Craig, Deputy Mayor of Bristol
Council of Bristol Mosques
Communication Workers Union South West Region
Darren Jones MP Bristol North West
Easton Jamia Masjid
Fire Brigades Union – South West
Global Goals Centre
Hazrat Bilal Masjid
Horfield Quaker Meeting
Kerry McCarthy MP Bristol East
Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol
Nailsea Baptist Church
Redland Quaker Meeting
Refugee Women of Bristol
SARI (Stand Against Racism and Inequality)
South West Trades Union Council
St Nicholas of Tolentino RC Church
Thangam Debbonaire MP Bristol West
Unite South West
Individuals and organisations are invited to add their names to the statement. You can do so by completing the form here or emailing email@example.com