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FROM today, refugees fleeing war and persecution will be denied the right to claim asylum in the UK as key elements of the “inhumane” Nationality and Borders Act come into effect.
The widely condemned legislation was forced through Parliament in April despite warnings from the United Nations refugee agency that it “undermines established international refugee protection law.”
As some of the most contentious parts of the Act come into force, rights groups warned that today effectively marks the end of Britain’s participation in the Refugee Convention after 70 years.
“It’s a truly bleak day for refugees fleeing conflict and persecution,” Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director Steve Valdez-Symonds said.
“Despite widespread opposition, including on its own back benches, the government has today ripped up the 1951 Refugee Convention and shamefully abandoned the international responsibility it owes to refugees.”
The human rights group added that the laws amount to Home Secretary Priti Patel “unlawfully rewriting” what it means to be a refugee, and will likely result in thousands wrongly refused asylum despite being at risk of persecution in their home countries.
Migrant Voice director Nazek Ramadan said: “The Nationality and Borders Act effectively ends the UK’s participation in the United Nations Refugee Convention, moving Britain away from protecting refugees to deterring them.
“The new bleak reality for people fleeing wars and persecution and turning to us for protection is continuous punishment, which amounts to further persecution.”
The provisions coming into effect today introduce a new two-tier asylum system which relegates the majority of refugees to a lower status.
Under this system, any asylum-seeker who arrives in Britain from June 28 outside of official government resettlement routes, now faces being criminalised, denied the right to claim asylum and deported.
If the government is unable to remove them within a certain period, their claims will be processed.
But even if the asylum-seeker is recognised as a refugee, they will only be eligible for an inferior form of temporary stay in Britain, providing them with restricted access to benefits and family reunification rights.
This could see as many as 3,500 people prevented from joining their families in Britain each year, with the vast majority likely to be women and children, according to analysis by the Refugee Council.
One migrant rights charity predicts the new system will drive thousands of refugees into destitution.
Praxis policy and public affairs manager Josephine Whitaker-Yilmaz said: “The government has produced no evidence that these changes will achieve the stated aim of deterring people from seeking safety in the UK.
“But we know from decades of experience of working with people affected by these discriminatory policies just how damaging they are likely to be.
“They risk pushing thousands more people into poverty, destitution and even homelessness every year, with profoundly harmful consequences for individuals and communities.”
Other provisions coming into force today include those allowing removals of asylum-seekers to third countries, such as Rwanda.
Freedom from Torture’s head of asylum advocacy Sile Reynolds said: “This is a dark day for the UK as a place of sanctuary for those fleeing war, torture and persecution,” but vowed to continue fighting the laws.
The government claims the legislation will prevent people making dangerous crossings to Britain and crack down on people-smuggling gangs.
But critics warn that in the absence of safe routes, the new laws risk making these journeys even more dangerous.
Ms Ramadan added: “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.”
Refugee Action chief executive Tim Naor Hilton said: “These extreme and nasty anti-refugee laws pull the plug on our responsibility to help people fleeing war and persecution and give ministers the green light to treat refugees with ever-more hostility.
“People who come to the UK for sanctuary should be protected, not punished.
“The government must dump these laws and replace them with a refugee protection system based on justice, compassion and dignity.”
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