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The UK is criminalising refugees through the new Anti-Refugee Bill

The UK is criminalising refugees through the new Anti-Refugee Bill

The Nationality and Borders Bill, also dubbed the Anti-Refugee Bill, is the UK government's new draconian attempt to stop immigration. It seeks to criminalise asylum seekers, increase the risk of exploitation, and differentiate between those they deem ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ of asylum. The legislation will have catastrophic consequences for the rights of asylum seekers and British citizens with non-UK heritage.

The bill proposes to give the government the authority to strip citizenship without prior warning, as long as they deem it to be ‘conducive to the public good’, as said by Priti Patel. The Home Secretary has the power to remove a naturalised citizen's citizenship if she believes the person has a right to citizenship of another country, which could render many stateless. This is the same government who implemented a hostile environment policy to make life difficult for all migrants living in the UK, treating them as less deserving of humanity than British citizens. This policy gave rise to the Windrush scandal, which exposed the underhand deportation of British Caribbean elders who were wrongly detained and denied their legal rights. If implemented, this bill will affect 6 million people, and disproportionately affect Black and other minority groups. People of Colour, who have lived in the UK for their entire lives, could have their existence criminalised at any moment, without warning.

Clause 10 of the Bill attacks the rights of asylum seekers who risk their lives to reach safety. The government will increase the standard of proof needed by asylum seekers to show that they are endangered if deported to their source countries, making it more difficult for those fleeing persecution, such as LGBTQ+ people and ethnic minorities, who already have the tedious task of ‘proving’ their identities. Asylum seekers could also be penalised and imprisoned for arriving in the UK via ‘illegal’ routes, as opposed to the ‘legal’ route proposed by the government through the resettlement scheme. This is being framed as an attempt to protect those who are in ‘genuine need’ but instead withholds protection for those who enter through ‘illegal’ routes and ignores their sheer desperation to reach safety. The Nationality and Borders Bill ignores the obvious point that when you are fleeing war and catastrophe, you do not have the time to research which route is most legal - you just take any route you can.

Another proposal of the bill is to create prison-style detention centres located offshores for refugees. This is a contradictory move from the government, as it reverses the previous task of reducing the number of detention centres. Existing detention centres in the UK are known for unsanitary conditions, detaining children without their parents, and the overall dehumanisation of migrants. The treatment of refugees in detention centres like Napier Woods shows that this system is rife with human rights abuses, which could increase in offshore detention centres. By detaining migrants offshore, the government can absolve themselves of all responsibility for the treatment of refugees, making it impossible for human rights monitors and journalists to access. Legal repercussions also exist for any British citizen who chooses to aid a refugee, proving that the government is completely devoid of empathy when it comes to refugees.

The UK’s anti-refugee stance is even more shocking when you consider the influence Great Britain has had on the refugee crisis, both in colonial history and present-day intervention in crises in areas such as the Middle East. In refugee discourse, there is little to no acknowledgement on how the desperate conditions of the global majority have been historically created by European colonial powers. Colonialism and neo-colonialism have both damaged and continued to damage the infrastructures in countries in the Global South, therefore forcibly displacing millions of people. With the climate crisis on the horizon, the amount of refugees are predicted to increase massively, with 150 million to 250 million people being displaced by 2050. The refugee ‘problem’ is not going to just disappear into thin air, so there should be more of an effort to open our doors to those bearing the consequences of the actions of the West. There should be a stronger obligation to accept those escaping disaster and persecution, purely by virtue of connected histories of colonialism and neo-colonialism.

The Nationality and Borders Bill illustrates the Conservative government's dedication to waging a war on those most vulnerable in our society. This Bill does not seek to protect migrants like it claims to, instead it aims to protect the borders of the UK from people seeking refuge. The UK is the 5th richest economy in the world and hosts less than one percent of global refugees, yet there is little urgency to improve the situations of refugees on British shores. There is no end in sight for the situation of refugees, therefore the government should not approach this in a hostile manner. It is vital that we do everything in our power to welcome migrants, refugees and asylum seekers into our communities, and treat them with the care and compassion they deserve, despite how harshly the government treats them.

Sundus Abdi

30 Jan 2022