The Nationality and Borders Bill in Detail – Asylum Welcome’s Key Concerns

Asylum Welcome recognises the need to reform our asylum system, to reduce the dangers that those seeking sanctuary are exposed to on their journeys, and to crack down on people smuggling. 

However, our ongoing discussions with the refugees and asylum seekers we work with, and our years of experience supporting asylum seekers in the process, tell us that these legislative reforms proposed by the Home Secretary are not targeting these aims

In some cases, they may even heighten the precarity and risks refugees face on their journey and on arrival in the UK.  

 In line with Together with Refugees, our main concerns relate to four areas: the two-tier system, the treatment of ‘group 2’ refugees via inadmissibility and removal, the expedited appeals process, and the lack of a defined resettlement commitment.

The two-tier system  

Clause 11 (Part 2: Asylum) of the Nationality and Borders Bill establishes a differentiated two-tier system of refugee processing based on how asylum seekers come to the UK rather than their need for protection. Those who come via ‘safe and legal routes’ (Group 1) will have strengthened rights and support, while those who arrive via so-called ‘illegal’ irregular routes (Group 2) will be deemed ‘inadmissible’ and, wherever possible, removed from the UK.

There are complex political, social, and practical reasons why many refugees may be unable to enter the UK via ‘safe and legal routes’. This has been exemplified during the Ukrainian refugee crisis whereby flights to the UK from Ukraine were stopped and there was no safe and direct route to the UK. Indeed, the predominant causes of refugeehood – conflict and persecution – mean that individuals fleeing are unlikely to be able to afford a direct route to the UK and/or access official resettlement schemes, which are hugely oversubscribed. Further, this language hides the fact that the act of claiming asylum is a fundamental human right and that there is no obligation on refugees to claim asylum in the first ‘safe’ country they reach. 

We consider the creation of two separate classes of asylum seeker to be incompatible with the UK’s international refugee and human rights commitments as well as the UK’s Human Rights Act (1998).  

Inadmissibility and removal

This ‘inadmissible’ Group 2 of refugees would be deemed ‘illegal’ and the proposed solution to this would be that they would then be removed to a ‘partner’ nation-state to be processed and re-settled. Not only does this risk the situation in which refugees may face persecution or exclusion in another country, but it shies away from the UK’s commitment to resettle asylum seekers in line with international sharing and cooperation expectations.  

In cases where ‘safe’ removal is deemed impossible, this group will be criminalised and made to live precarious lives in the UK – they will be given only temporary protection status (maximum of 30 months) and will have no access to public funds nor family reunification rights. 

We consider the creation of two separate classes of asylum seeker to be incompatible with the UK’s international refugee and human rights commitments as well as the UK’s Human Rights Act (1998).  

Expedited appeals

The Nationality and Borders bill looks to streamline the procedure for claiming asylum and lodging appeals, citing huge backlogs in the system. This is certainly the case, with over 60,000 individuals still waiting in-limbo for processing.  However, the proposal to fix this is likely to place refugees, as well as individuals who have been trafficked, at risk of misjudgements without meaningful recourse to appeal these decisions. 

Under the new proposal, asylum appeals will be limited, expedited, and online where appropriate, and any final hearings will be shortened. There will be an accelerated appeals process for those in detention, and new fast-tracked appeals processes for late claims and those deemed manifestly unfounded. These proposals look to speed up the process of applying for asylum by removing the number of checks and balances on the process.

Yet, under the current system, over 40% of appeals are approved. This is too many to suggest that a rigorous appeals system is not necessary. 

We also echo the statement made by Women for Refugee Women that the expedited appeals process and the decision to place less weight on evidence not revealed in the initial application and hearing will have a particularly harmful effect on women, LGBT+ asylum seekers and victims of trafficking, who may not initially recognise themselves as having been trafficked or enslaved.

The need for a resettlement commitment

We know that Oxfordshire, and the UK, has both the capacity and the public will to accept a greater number of people fleeing persecution. 

The proposal of a global resettlement target of 10,000 places a year (inclusive of the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme – ARCS) has been received by MPs and Peers on all sides as a pragmatic reform that would go some way to enabling this and to creating a more fair and inclusive refugee resettlement and asylum system. 

While rhetoric from the government has indicated a willingness to take in more refugees, there has been little action in this regard. Since the closure of the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme for Syrian refugees, the three resettlement schemes operated by the UK (excluding ACRS) have between them resettled a combined total of less than 1,000 people. Further, the lack of a specific target has limited the ability of local authorities to plan for and deliver on resettlement housing and provisions. 

Providing a specific annual target of 10,000 individuals would enable authorities to plan and coordinate their provision for re-settled individuals, would allow the Home Office to react swiftly to international refugee crises, and would build-in accountability to the system.  This is neither an onerous or unachievable ask: a 10,000 resettlement target per year would amount to around 5 families being accommodated within every local authority in the UK. 

In addition to this, Asylum Welcome calls for the bill to be fully compatible with the Refugee Convention (Amendment 182) and for the legal advice from the UNHCR to be taken on board in its eventual enactment. 

 Read more about the bill and our proposals in detail here!