Labour MPs denounce the Nationality and Borders Bill as anti-refugee and propose reforms to welcome refugees to the UK

The statement demonstrates in clear language, for the first time, that members of the Parliamentary Labour Party not only oppose the Bill, but reject its anti-refugee sentiment


7 Labour MPs (Ian Byrne, Richard Burgon, Geraint Davies, Kim Johnson, Clive Lewis, Kate Osborne, and Zarah Sultana) have signed a statement condemning the government’s Nationality and Borders Bill.

The statement demonstrates in clear language, for the first time, that members of the Parliamentary Labour Party not only oppose the Bill, but reject its anti-refugee sentiment and want to make refugees welcome in the UK.

The MPs have called out the Bill for dehumanising and criminalising refugees by proposing to treat them differently for arriving by irregular routes, seeking to accelerate the use of unsuitable camp-based accommodation and by legislating to allow offshore processing of asylum seekers. 

Offshore processing of claims by asylum seekers is used by Australia and has led to severe human rights abuses, including killings by guards. The MPs say the UK must not follow this disastrous policy. Meanwhile, the Napier Barracks refugee camp in the UK was found to be inadequate for human habitation by the High Court, demonstrating why the MPs oppose refugee camps in the UK.

The MPs have set out a clear alternative refugee policy that treats refugees with humanity and as people in need of protection. As well as closing all camp-based accommodation for refugees, they propose increasing safe routes to the UK, whilst maintaining rights for those who arrive by irregular routes, and making it easier for refugees in other countries to reunite with family in the UK. 

The statement was coordinated by Labour for Refugees, an organisation seeking to empower members, officials and MPs within the Labour Party to speak out on behalf of refugees, grow the voice of refugees, and advance pro-refugee policies.

Clive Lewis MP said of the Bill: “This callous Bill discriminates against refugees who have no choice but to come to the UK via irregular routes. The Government is treating people who are fleeing danger and in need of protection like they are criminals.

“When your life is in danger you take any route you can to get to safety. So when the Government decides that there are only certain routes someone can legally take to seek safety, they are in effect criminalising refugees. This Bill is wrong and must be stopped.”

Tom Ash, Leader of Labour for Refugees said: “Plans for offshore processing and more use of refugee camps in the UK are despicable. Camps in the UK have been found to be completely unsuitable and to further traumatise those fleeing persecution. Meanwhile offshore processing in Australia has been a disastrous policy that has led to human rights abuses against people who came seeking safety from abuses in their home countries. The Bill must be stopped and this statement demonstrates that the Parliamentary Labour Party agrees and why.”

A copy of the statement below:

We, as members of the Parliamentary Labour Party, stand firmly against the Nationality and Borders Bill and in defence of refugees. Labour values demand we stand up for the most vulnerable, including those who have fled war and persecution. British values demand that we do not punish those seeking protection from intolerance and autocracy, but welcome them with open arms.

The Bill’s callous attacks on refugee rights and welfare will not, as the Conservatives claim, combat the criminal traffickers who exploit refugees, but will drive the vulnerable to attempt more dangerous routes to safety and persecute them on their arrival. That is why we oppose the Bill’s assault on refugees, especially the following:

  • Differential treatment of refugees depending on how they arrive in the UK. Not only does this contradict the Refugee Convention, it punishes those with little option but to take irregular routes as very few safe and legal options remain for reaching the UK.
  • Acceleration of the use of camp based accommodation. Refugee camps, such as that at Napier Barracks, have repeatedly been found to be unfit for human habitation and treat those fleeing persecution as criminals .
  • Offshore processing of asylum claims. This risks leading to serious human rights abuses, as it did in Australia where abuse has included sexual assault of refugees. It would also leave asylum seekers in legal limbo, adding further delays to an asylum system where over 30,000 refugees had waited over a year for their claim to be heard in 2020.
  • Restriction of family reunion rights for those arriving by irregular routes. Family reunion is one of the only safe ways for refugees to reach the UK and over 90% of reunion visas are granted to women and children. Removing these rights will force them to take dangerous routes that fund traffickers.
  • Increased use of age assessments. Age assessments dehumanise refugees, subjecting them to humiliating suspicion. They are also often inaccurate, endangering children by placing them with adults.

Instead of introducing these vindictive policies, Britain should demonstrate its opposition to intolerance and violence everywhere by:

  • Increasing safe routes for refugees to come to the UK whilst maintaining the rights of those who arrive by irregular routes. Britain received 29,456 asylum applications in 2020, compared to 95,600 claims in France (with a similar population to the UK) and 88,530 in Spain (with a smaller population than the UK) . The UK can and should take more refugees.
  • Closing all camp based accommodation and immigration detention centres. Those arriving in the UK to seek safety should not be criminalised but offered protection and help integrating into the community.
  • Expanding refugee family reunion rights. Women and children often depend on their family members being able to bring them to the UK. The UK should make it easier for the most at risk to escape persecution.

We stand with Labour for Refugees against the Tories’ heartless attacks on refugees through the Nationality and Borders Bill and call on the Labour Party to do everything it can to stand up for refugees now and in the future.

Basit Mahmood is the editor of Left Foot Forward

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