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BORIS JOHNSON’S government has taken increasingly worrying steps down the plank of authoritarianism in recent months.
There is a dangerous reactionary streak running through the Westminster Parliament with such things as the recent Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report and the claim that teaching about white privilege is illegal; the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) legislation, otherwise known as the “Spycops” Bill, which allows government bodies to authorise law-breaking by undercover operatives in Britain; the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, with its severe crackdown on protest that also criminalises Gypsy and Traveller communities; the plan to make voter ID compulsory to vote in elections despite only six cases of ballot fraud at the last general election and many other initiatives taken by the Conservative government.
They all reveal a deeply troubling broader political project, which is designed to chip away at our rights, divide our communities against each other and distract from the real causes of inequality and injustice.
In the last week of Parliament before summer recess, the government voted through what is arguably the worst piece of legislation seen in our lifetimes.
The Nationality and Borders Bill is anti-refugee to its core. It lacks basic humanity and represents an acceleration in the government’s deeply damaging demonisation of migrants and asylum-seekers.
From its conception the legislation is nothing short of evil, with over 200 human rights groups and civil society groups, including Liberty and Refugee Action, calling its consultation a sham.
Asylum-seekers will be removed from the UK while their asylum claim or appeal is pending, which opens the door to offshore asylum processing.
The Australian model, in which people seeking asylum are processed offshore, has been extensively criticised for failing to meet basic human rights standards.
It is the worst refugee framework for our government to try and replicate.
The Bill will grant new powers for Border Force to stop and divert vessels suspected of carrying illegal migrants, a policy which is directly pandering to the far-right talking points propagated by the likes of Nigel Farage.
It will also enable the British government to block visas for overseas visitors if the home secretary believes their country of origin is refusing to co-operate in taking back “rejected” asylum-seekers or refugees.
Analysis of Home Office data by the Refugee Council found that 9,000 people who would be accepted as refugees under current rules — those confirmed to have fled war or persecution — would no longer be given safety in the UK due to their method of arrival under the reforms.
Refugee Action described the proposals as a “a wrecking ball to the right to claim asylum in the UK.”
The proposed rules will produce a two-tier system for those seeking refuge, not based on need but based on a refugee’s route of arrival.
This is based on the false premise that an asylum-seeker who has sought to escape persecution and danger through what the government deems to be an “irregular route” to the UK ought not to receive protection.
The UK’s already inhumane and stringent asylum process would mean, in practice, that the vast majority fleeing war, famine, persecution, climate disaster or violence will effectively, as a result of this Bill, be blocked at the border.
There is no such thing as an illegal asylum-seeker, yet the government is seeking to judge how worthy someone is of asylum by how they arrived in the UK.
Like many areas of the country, my home city of Leicester is forged from a proud history of welcoming refugees and asylum-seekers, from Jewish communities fleeing the Holocaust to Asian refugees arriving from east Africa in the 1960s. We are richer for this diversity and this exchange of cultures.
This draconian Bill betrays Britain’s history of welcoming refugees and asylum-seekers, including the Kindertransport which rescued tens of thousands of children fleeing Nazi barbarism.
The UN’s refugee agency and legal experts warn that the Bill risks breaching commitments under the Refugee Convention of 1951.
The UK is also bound by the European Convention on Human Rights, which prevents the UK from sending someone to a country where there is a real risk they may be exposed to torture, or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
The Nationalities and Borders Bill tramples over this essential human rights obligation.
The legislation has rightly been criticised by trade unions, human rights organisations and legal experts including Unison, the UNHCR, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, Migrant Voice, Freedom from Torture, The Law Society, Liberty, Detention Action and the British Red Cross.
This latest authoritarian step by the British government shows that, far from learning from the appalling treatment of the Windrush generation, the government is intent on expanding the damaging hostile environment.
The Runnymede Trust argues that African, African-Caribbean, Asian and minority ethnic communities would disproportionately suffer as a result of this Bill.
In reality, the Bill will shut out and disproportionately affect working-class migrants.
The Home Office claim that their aim is to prevent criminal trafficking networks.
Yet the Westminster government has persistently been warned that, if it does not open safe and legal routes for people to practice their legal right to claim asylum, then such practices and deaths at sea are unavoidable.
Instead, it has proceeded to close the few legal avenues that exist, such as the right to family reunion and the Bill does nothing to create safe routes for refugees.
Britain’s historical and brutal immigration policies, which are echoed to varying degrees across “fortress Europe,” is the reason why 19,000 migrants were reported dead or missing between 2013 and 2019.
It is also important to remember that asylum-seekers arriving in Britain are often from countries where Britain has contributed to their disruption — either by arming current conflicts or through the enduring legacy of colonialism.
Rather than pulling up the drawbridge, the government should be recognising and making amends for Britain’s historic and contemporary complicity in the forced displacement of people.
Contrary to the mistruths peddled by this government, asylum-seekers do not arrive in Britain to leech off the state — Asylum Support Allowance is a mere £37.75 per week.
It is also far from the case that Britain is overwhelmed with asylum-seekers, with Germany, Spain, Italy, Greece and France registering far more asylum applicants.
In the sixth-richest country in the world, there is no reason why we cannot provide a humane pathway towards stability and dignity for everyone in this country.
We must also remember that 83 per cent of worldwide refugees live in so called “developing regions” — not industrialised countries — which further reflects the grim, unbalanced nature of global power dynamics
Time and again, this government has chosen to turn its back on those seeking protection from war, torture, climate catastrophe and other awful circumstances.
This Bill will compound the misery of people fleeing intolerable conditions driven by poverty, war and climate change.
The Bill does nothing to close detention centres and cease the practice of indefinite detention and does nothing to end the destructive demonisation of refugees and asylum-seekers.
If they come for one, they come for all. Our solidarity must demand the government abandon this deeply damaging Nationality and Borders Bill — we cannot let them get away with this.
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