Analysis from the Refugee Council predicts more than 19,000 people a year fleeing war, conflict, and bloodshed could face years in UK prisons for attempting to find safety.
Lauren Crosby Medlicott is a freelance writer based in Wales reporting on human rights issues.
Following months of debate, the biggest overhaul of our asylum system has been passed and now it is only a matter of time before it is cemented into UK law. The Nationality and Borders Bill has been sold by Priti Patel as a way to deter illegal entry into the UK, breaking the business model of people smugglers, and quickly removing people who have no right to be in the UK.
“This is a huge milestone in our commitment to our promise to the British public – a fair but firm immigration system,” Patel said in response to the passing of the bill.
As Patel celebrates, 240 organisations vehemently oppose the new bill, saying that it “rips up internationally recognised rights for people fleeing war and persecution and will criminalise thousands of refugees.” It has been deemed as an anti-refugee law that will punish men, women and children who haven’t taken one of the inaccessible resettlement routes in the UK provided for them.
Analysis from the Refugee Council predicts more than 19,000 people a year fleeing war, conflict, and bloodshed could face years in UK prisons for attempting to find safety. Women and children who arrive here without a visa will have their rights to reunite with family restricted. It will block victims of human trafficking from support, making it harder for them to come forward and be identified.
“Far from deterring people from making dangerous journeys, it will simply punish those who need our help,” Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council told Left Foot Forward.
And yet, the bill has soldiered on through Parliament to the dismay and disappointment of people who support refugees and asylum seekers. “The government’s approach is entirely at odds with the warmth and generous spirit we have seen the British Public display in communities up and down the country as people have stepped forward to welcome those to recover from the bloodshed in Ukraine,” Solomon said.
For months, the bill has been fought against by human rights charities and organisations, gathering massive support from the general public, but we have now reached a worrying turning point in the UK’s approach to providing protection for those fleeing war and persecution. The bill is due to become law – our government has sided on the side of punishment, rather than protection. Now that the law has passed, what can be done? How can we help support refugees and asylum seekers who are seeking safety?
The Fight Isn’t Over
Even though main parliamentary process is complete, advocates have not quieted their voices. “We will continue to call for effective long-term solutions that protect refugees as well as control our borders as opposed to inhumane polices that punish and criminalise people seeking safety, harm lives and destroy our reputation as a country which values human rights,” said Solomon, echoing the resolution held by many charities.
As the details of the bill are ironed out, charities are starting to look at how they can limit the harm of the bill and evidence its failures as it is enacted. If it can be proven that the bill doesn’t fix our broken asylum system, but in fact makes it worse, there is hope that things could change. Only days ago, the government withdrew their refugee pushback policy following the demands from several charities. Legal challenges are already commencing to deter Patel from sending asylum seekers to Rwanda. Noise matters.
“Our campaigning and the efforts of our allies, supporters and other organisations has strengthened the movement and laid the groundwork for our efforts to repeal the worst aspects of these new laws,” a Tweet from Women for Refugee Women read. “We will keep fighting.”
Stand in Solidarity
For refugees and asylum seekers, news of this law has the potential to make them feel as if they are not wanted. It’s our responsibility to tell and show them that this is absolutely untrue. “We’ll be offering more support than ever,” Sol Escobar, of Give Your Best, a non-profit supporting refugee women, told Left Foot Forward. “We will be reassuring our community that we’re here for them and the vote doesn’t represent the wishes of the general population.”
Escobar has seen first-hand how the hatred from those in power towards refugees and asylum seekers impacts people who have gone through unspeakable trauma. “The mental and emotional toll of all this hatred towards this community is palpable,” she says. “If you’re a supporter of refugees, do it loudly and with love so they themselves can hear you and know they are not alone.”
As a democracy that gives citizens a voice, we must continue to speak up with the unified message that refugees are welcome here. We can write to our MPs. We can sign petitions. We can protest. We can raise concerns in daily conversations. Small acts of solidarity can have major impacts.
“It’s natural to feel angry and helpless today,” a Tweet from Choose Love stated. “But we must continue speaking out against this bill. We have to continue to contest these laws and tell the UK government that we do not accept this barbaric decision.”
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