Dr Peter Walsh from the Migration Observatory here in Oxford gave a brief critique of the upcoming Nationality and Borders Bill, which has already passed first and second readings in the House of Commons, but will be subject to critical analysis at the next stage in the Autumn, and certainly in The House of Lords. His critique was crystal clear – there are numerous provisions that fly in the face of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and are likely to be subject to legal challenge. Making it a criminal offence to help someone fearing for their live who arrives through an unauthorised route into the UK would almost certainly criminalise rescue teams, even the RNLI who are committed to saving lives at sea. This part of the Bill may well change – watch this space! But the main thrust of the Bill to establish 2 categories of refugees and asylum seekers: those who arrive via unauthorised routes (e.g. boats or lorries across the channel) vs the minority who come through official Resettlement schemes issued by the Home Office, seems to be fixed in the Government’s mind.
Nuha Abdo, the founder of the active Syrian Sisters supporting women arriving from Syria and other Middle East countries across Oxfordshire then shared her story and spoke giving her own observations on the effect of the Bill. We listened to her story with rapt attention; one can truly say “you could have heard a pin drop”. Her husband and her whole family had made a perilous journey across Europe from Syria – she would have would been deemed to be an ‘illegal’ asylum seeker under the terms of the new Bill. Nuha now works with us at Asylum Welcome coordinating our Refugee Community Organisations Project.
Finally, we heard a motivating and inspiring contribution from Ben Jackson, Director of the Asylum Reform Initiative, an alliance of over 350 organisations supporting refugees across the UK. Ben acknowledged that the main task will be to pick various clauses in the new Bill which are most contentious and may be amended after parliamentary scrutiny. “Let’s pick our battles” was the approach – but he gave everyone the motivation to keep up our campaigning, letter writing and even public demonstrations (being discussed for October – December). No MP should think this Bill is a vote winner – and we will do everything we can to remove its most pernicious effects.
I should add that we then conduced some formal business in the last part of the AGM, adopting our new constitution, welcoming 2 new Trustees, Lucy Keating and David Levy, and approving our Report and Accounts for 2020/2021.
You’ll see I’ve attached a few charts that we had hoped to show at the start of the AGM – unfortunately we had a technical problem on the night, but please do take a look at some of the real highlights of our recent work.