I should first say that the opinions expressed here within are solely my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Society. I am not claiming to know everything, and I am also aware that this Bill is subject to change.
Since I heard of the new Nationality and Borders Bill, I have been reflecting on the situations people find themselves in which require them to seek asylum and how useful and practicable the Government -backed safe and legal routes are in the face of danger.
From what I know, this Nationality and Borders bill poses that application for asylum will only be accepted from those who came to the UK via a ‘legal and safe route’ and anyone who has come via a boat or other routes, will be deemed ‘illegal’.
The government have listed safe and legal routes that those seeking asylum should use and they are the ‘UK Resettlement Scheme’, ‘Community Sponsorship Scheme’, ‘Mandate Resettlement Scheme’ and ‘Refugee Family Reunion.’ Only those who have entered the UK through these government-backed ‘safe and legal routes’ would have their asylum application looked at. Those who have not entered this way face imprisonment.
According to the Refugee Convention, a refugee is someone who, ‘owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable to or owing to such a fear is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country’.
The Nationality and Borders Bill was put in place to allegedly break the business of people-smuggling and thus tackle illegal immigration. At first glance, this seems fair, as it is stopping the motives of traffickers who could be monopolising on the desperation of many people who are seeking a safer and better life. However, when you look past the surface level, you see that it has a consequential effect on those who use these routes to safety, as they will also be seen as criminals.
The problem that I have with this Bill is that, at this present moment, and with the little knowledge that I have, it looks at how people entered the UK rather than why they entered. Yes, the reality of smuggling is a real thing, but we should focus on the reason and desperations of those willing to put their lives into these people’s hands in pursuit of safety.
Before, a person’s asylum application was based on why they left their country and their proof of it. Now the Home Office takes into account the way in which they arrived in the country. Could this mean that here is no refugee status for people arriving by illegal means?. If so, I think this is a deliberate stumbling block perpetuated by the Home Office because the majority of those seeking international protection in the UK have no access to a safe and legal route. The routes that traffickers provide are often their only route to freedom. So, although our government may call it illegal, to those seeking protection, these ‘illegal routes’ are their only hope.
There is a plethora of reasons why people must abandon their homes and are unable to go back. And so, when a person crosses our borders in need of international protection, they deserve access to fair and efficient asylum procedures, because refugees have rights and it is the duty of states to protect them, not label them as criminals. Unfortunately, this Bill focuses on the business of people-smugglers and not the plight and the human rights of those who are desperate to even use them.
Whilst it is a messy situation, politicians should understand that favour should always be shown to those who need safety. In my opinion, the bill shifts the focus from the humanitarian issue at hand and creates a concern around the people who are making it possible for asylum seekers to enter the country. Surely we can still have compassion for those seeking international protection despite the method of their arrival!
On a surface level, these government-backed routes can be perceived as immensely helpful and just, but how viable, attainable, and practicable are these routes in the face of danger? Are these politicians aware of the many reasons why someone would risk their life and abandon their home and come to a place that they deem safe? Are politicians aware that when danger strikes, the sea is often the only place seen as safe? How do you apply for asylum through the resettlement scheme in the midst of danger?
The stories I have read and listened to show that there is no time to think of these Government-backed legal and safe routes in times of fleeing from persecution. For example, if you are someone who is a member of a particular social group or has an opposing political opinion and are therefore on your government’s watchlist and are in fear of being killed, leaving your country to enter another country for safety via a safe and legal route will be very risky.
To me, these requirements of the Government are so tone deaf to the reality and lived experience of those fleeing persecution. More has to be done to protect these people.
The Columbans have recently signed the Asylum Matters West Midlands pledge opposing the Nationality and Borders Bill and ‘stand united in opposing the policies that this Bill will implement’. We call on other local community representatives across the West Midlands to join us and put pressure on the UK Government ‘to scrap these harmful and divisive proposals’.
A Prayer to the Creator
Lord, Father of our human family,
you created all human beings equal in dignity:
pour forth into our hearts a fraternal spirit
and inspire in us a dream of renewed encounter,
dialogue, justice and peace.
Move us to create healthier societies
and a more dignified world,
a world without hunger, poverty, violence and war.
May our hearts be open
to all the peoples and nations of the earth.
May we recognize the goodness and beauty
that you have sown in each of us,
and thus forge bonds of unity, common projects,
and shared dreams.
Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti