We lost the vote on the treatment of refugees – but the fight is far from over

The public wants to see an improvement in their own lives. Rejoicing at the misery inflicted on refugees will not improve anyone’s life.


The government may have won the vote on Monday night to approve the second reading of its anti-asylum seeker bill, but there is every reason to continue the fight against it.

It is a pernicious Bill which seeks to give governments the ability to flout international law and common decency on the rights of all refugees and asylum seekers.  It would be a permanent stain on this country to allow it to stand, and thankfully many of us do not believe it will.

The first reason is the law itself. I have never previously seen a Bill which on its face says it may not be compatible with international law. This is probably the minimum that had to be said given that the widespread and authoritative legal opinion is that it will not stand.

It is certain that there will be numerous legal challenges to the Bill, and there are reports that one may have even begun. There are some hotheads on the Tory benches, including even on the frontbench who seem to want to use this case as a stepping-stone out of the European Convention on Human Rights and the jurisdiction of the European Court altogether. 

This would amount to a withdrawal from norms on domestic and international human rights that British governments have subscribed to since the end of the Second World War.

If the Bill does survive, we are going to see a lot more protests outside hostels, hotels and former barracks. No doubt some of the same Tory MPs who cheered the policy in the Commons in recent sessions will be among the protestors when they realise the accommodation is located in their constituency.

The government is going to need an awful lot of beds. If the numbers of those seeking asylum are maintained at the current rate it will be in the tens of thousands of new beds per year. The government will be simultaneously refusing to grant anyone the right to remain in the country but at the same time has no means of deporting them. It has withdrawn from all international agreements that would allow the safe return of those whose claim has been rejected.

Only Rwanda has said that it will accept deportees who have not been assessed. But their available places are currently limited to 200 and is anyway the subject of its own legal challenges.

In the Commons, the Home Secretary was forced to concede the acceptance of unaccompanied children seeking asylum. But there were no such assurances for victims of people trafficking and modern slavery. Far from deterring the people smugglers, this Bill is effectively a people smugglers’ charter.

All this has been pointed out to this government and still it persists. This is because the aim is not to achieve even a workable policy, let alone a legal or moral one. It is to campaign incessantly against asylum seekers, the most vulnerable migrants of all. Idiots repeating claims that hundreds of millions of people are posed to come here are simply reading from the Tory party manager’s election campaign script.

This is abhorrent politics. People spouting nonsense simply in order to hang on to their party seats. They also seem to believe our moral outrage is their electoral asset.

I do not believe they are right. The public wants to see an improvement in their own lives. Rejoicing at the misery inflicted on refugees will not improve anyone’s life.

StandUptoRacism have called a ‘Resist Racism’ demo supported by the TUC and major union for this Saturday March 18, assembling at noon at Portland Place. For details and other locations see here.

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