UK DEPORTATION: Priti Patel’s Borders Act is ‘Unlawfully Rewriting’ What It Means To Be A Refugee
Controversial provisions of the Nationality and Borders Act has come into effect recently.
New law will unlawfully prevent people facing persecution from establishing their right to asylum in UK
Some refugees – including those facing persecution because of their sexual identity or orientation – will be wrongly required to meet extra tests
“This is a truly bleak day for refugees fleeing conflict and persecution’ – Steve Valdez-Symonds said.
Amnesty International has said the Nationality and Borders Act – which comes into effect Tuesday (28 June) – will fundamentally break with the UK’s commitment to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention.
The controversial legislation amounts to the Home Secretary “unlawfully rewriting” what is means to be a refugee, said Amnesty.
Amnesty is warning that the act will have a severe impact on refugees claiming asylum in the UK, including in respect of the following:
Some refugees – including many who claim asylum based on the persecution they face resulting from their sexual identity or orientation – will be unfairly required to meet extra tests to have their status recognised. This may exclude many people from the asylum to which they are entitled – and require – to safeguard them from persecution.
Refugees who arrive or enter the UK without prior permission will be penalised – including by criminal prosecution, imprisonment and exclusion from their full rights to asylum in the UK, directly violating the 1951 Refugee Convention.
The new laws are highly likely to cause the UK to wrongly refuse asylum to thousands of people despite them having presented a grave risk that if sent back to their home countries they will face torture and other forms of persecution
Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s Refugee and Migrant Rights Director, said:
“It’s a truly bleak day for refugees fleeing conflict and persecution.
“Despite widespread opposition, including on its own backbenches, the Government has today ripped up the 1951 Refugee Convention and shamefully abandoned the international responsibility it owes to refugees.
“Priti Patel’s talk of targeting criminal gangs is a cynical distraction from her true intent – which is to penalise, punish and deter people from ever seeking asylum in this country.
“Completely contrary to the Home Secretary’s claims, the measures in this act will make people even more vulnerable to smugglers and abusers while doing further damage to the UK asylum system and dragging the UK’s reputation through the mud.”
The Nationality and Borders Act contains several provisions that conflict with and undermine that international agreement, of which the UK was one of the original drafters and one of the very first countries to adopt. The act attempts to re-write the Convention in several respects according to the Government’s preferences and in direct conflict with a long-settled understanding of its meaning and application. All of this is intended to exclude refugees from the right to asylum that is owed to them.
No international agreement can lawfully be simply unilaterally re-written by one of the parties to it. That the UK has sought to do so is a flagrant violation of its international obligations. It is also deeply undermining of international respect for this convention and international law more generally because it is both an abrogation by the UK of obligations it has freely taken on (and encouraged others to take on) and an invitation to others to follow suit.
The Nationality and Borders Act includes nothing to address many of the circumstances that make asylum-seekers vulnerable to the exploitation of people-smuggling gangs and other abusers. Instead, it sets out to make these people more vulnerable. By making people feel more fearful, excluded and alienated – whether in the UK, on more secretive journeys to the UK or in other places – the act will further enable criminal exploitation to thrive – and even expand.
Safe and legal routes
The Government persists in suggesting that it provides safe and legal routes to seek asylum in the UK, which is little more than cynical spin. The UK maintains immigration rules that require people fleeing countries of conflict and repression to obtain a visa to make a journey to the UK, while providing no visa for anyone to make such a journey for the purpose of seeking asylum. It is a longstanding policy – confirmed in the act – that asylum in the UK can only be claimed if and when a person arrives here. Almost all the relatively few refugees who seek asylum in the UK have no other choice than to rely on unsafe journeys – and often dangerous people – to reach the UK to make their claims. This situation applies whatever the level of connection the person may have to the UK, including those with close family living here.
Ukraine, Afghan and Hong Kong schemes
The Government persists in drawing attention to schemes in the immigration rules for Ukrainians, Afghans and British Nationals (Overseas). The schemes for Ukrainian and Afghan refugees have proved to be ineffective and inaccessible to many of the people for whom they are notionally intended. The Home Secretary has clearly never had any genuine enthusiasm to support Ukrainian or Afghan refugees, just as she remains hostile in what she says and does in terms of providing asylum to refugees from other conflicts and repression.
The scheme for British Nationals (Overseas) from Hong Kong is, by contrast, not an asylum issue. The rules for this scheme establish criteria that concern only nationality and relative financial wealth. Whether a person has experienced or is at risk of persecution is irrelevant to those rules. This explains why official asylum statistics do not include people who come to the UK under this scheme.
If the UK genuinely wanted to encourage and support Rwanda with its relatively large refugee population and to improve its human rights record, it should not be making a deal to pass its own responsibilities on to that country. This sends a deeply irresponsible message to Rwanda and the wider world about how the UK regards its international responsibilities and human rights duties. If other countries follow such a dismal lead, the already fragile prospects for refugees finding a place of safety will gravely diminish.
Ministers have claimed the act is aimed at alleviating an asylum system they say is under pressure, even though the UK’s system continues to receive relatively few claims. The UK is far behind many European neighbours, such as France and Germany, in terms of the volume of asylum applications received and people afforded protection.
Instead, several of the act’s provisions will add a significant new workload to the Home Office’s remit. The Home Secretary should focus on making the UK asylum system more accessible, reducing and not adding to delays and improving the quality of decision-making.
Part one of the act includes important provisions on British nationality law, which will restore citizenship rights to thousands of people wrongly excluded from citizenship by longstanding discrimination and injustices. Amnesty welcomes these provisions. However, there are also serious injustices in this part of the act, including withholding citizenship rights of people born – and growing up – stateless in the UK; and measures which empower the Home Secretary to secretly strip British people of their citizenship.
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