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Waging war against asylum seekers

Summary:
The Nationality and Borders Bill will make it more challenging for asylum seekers to access protection. The government has justified the changes by claiming that the system is overwhelmed, with 73% of claims having been in the system for over a year. While this is certainly an issue, the solution should be to improve the systems for the benefit of the UK and asylum seekers, rather than break the Refugee Convention. The Refugee Convention requires states to provide certain protections to refugees: defined in international law as “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.” In the Nationality and Borders Bill,

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The Nationality and Borders Bill will make it more challenging for asylum seekers to access protection. The government has justified the changes by claiming that the system is overwhelmed, with 73% of claims having been in the system for over a year. While this is certainly an issue, the solution should be to improve the systems for the benefit of the UK and asylum seekers, rather than break the Refugee Convention.

The Refugee Convention requires states to provide certain protections to refugees: defined in international law as “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.” In the Nationality and Borders Bill, however, the Government creates two classes of refugee status, allocating groups according to factors that are simply immaterial to refugee status in international law. The UK will then only grant the necessary protection to those in group 1.

One factor used for determining the group allocated is route of travel. Asylum seekers will be placed into group 2 if “an individual does not come directly from a territory where their life or freedom is threatened”. The notion that asylum seekers must make a claim in the first country of entry is not a requirement under international law or the Refugee Convention. Many asylum seekers may choose to continue past the first safe country to another due to connections, language or cultural reasons. If it were a requirement it would put an unnecessary burden on countries dependent on their geographical position, such as Greece who already accept far more asylum seekers per capita than the UK.

The changes will mean most refugees are automatically placed in group 2. To travel directly to the UK from their country of origin, asylum seekers would have to travel by plane. However due to the serious financial consequences faced by plane companies for allowing passengers without visas, this is often untenable. Without the option of plane travel, this pushes asylum seekers into travelling by boat. As this is unreliable and dangerous, asylum seekers are often unable to make the journey in a single voyage, requiring them to enter other ‘safe’ countries before entering the UK.

For those asylum seekers placed in group 2, temporary protection may be granted. With temporary protection, refugees have no recourse to public funds unless in the case of destitution, no route to resettlement, continued work restrictions and no rights to family reunion. Not only is this creating a hostile and solitary environment but any barrier to family reunification contradicts both article 8 of the ECHR and article 6 of the Human Rights Act. As temporary protection only lasts 3 years, it becomes far harder for people in this position to integrate into society, and find a stable source of income. In addition, barriers to employment mean that rather than becoming constructive members of society, refugees in group 2 are likely to be a strain on public funds or turn to alternative, even illegal, sources of income.

The Government ought to understand that simply stating that this bill is compatible with the Refugee Convention does not automatically make it true. Rather than warping international law to deny necessary protection to many refugees, in order to deter illegal travel, the government needs to improve and expand the safe and legal methods for arrival in the UK.

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