This is a dark time for us as refugee advocates, but it’s also a chance to regroup, reflect on our achievements, and reaffirm our commitment to treat all refugees and asylum seekers equally, with dignity and respect, regardless of how they arrived here.

Following nine months of debate, significant opposition from UNHCR, national and international opposition from politicians and members of the public alike, and a series of spirited campaigns from refugee organisations asking the government to protect not punish refugees, the Nationality and Borders Bill received Royal Assent and became an Act of Parliament on Thursday 28th April. The way is now clear for the government to implement its much-vaunted New Plan for Immigration.

We knew this would be an uphill battle from the beginning, when government completely ignored its own consultation, to which 75% of respondents, including ourselves, said the Borders Bill would be harmful and inhumane. Nevertheless, we are bitterly disappointing that, in the end, the Borders Bill passed with no amendments or concessions, and no additional safe and legal routes for refugees, despite the hard work and heartfelt speeches of many members of the House of Lords. The NBB was one of six controversial pieces of legislation pushed through parliament at the last minute, ahead of prorogation and the local elections.

Organisations including the Refugee Council, the British Red Cross, Oxfam and MSF have spoken out against the passage of the bill. UNHCR, the the UN Refugee Agency, have spoken out repeatedly against the Anti-Refugee Bill, and released a statement in response to the passage of the bill.

[UNHCR] regrets that the British government’s proposals for a new approach to asylum that undermines established international refugee protection law and practices has been approved.

It is disappointing that [the UK] would choose a course of action aimed at deterring the seeking of asylum by relegating most refugees to a new, lesser status with few rights and a constant threat of removal.

This latest UK Government decision risks dramatically weakening a system that has for decades provided protection and the chance of a new life to so many desperate people.

Filippo Grandi, Head of UNHCR

The question of the NBB’s compliance with international refugee law was the very last issue left when all others had been conceded. The government insisted, however, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that its new laws do comply with the Refugee Convention.  Legal experts disagree, arguing that the bill will see Britain renege on our long-held international obligations. Labour peers abstained on the final vote, so it didn’t get through.

What will the new laws look like?

Differentiated Treatment

The NBB is underpinned by the principle that not all refugees are made equal: those who arrive via ‘safe and legal’ routes are deserving of our protection, whilst those unable to access safe routes (in theory, this includes Ukrainians) are considered criminals and may be imprisoned for years, sent to Rwanda. The NBB enshrines in law the idea that people who arrive via formal resettlement schemes are the only ones who can be classified as ‘genuine’ refugees (although  82% of those who arrived via small boats last year were granted refugee status asylum – (and of those initially rejected, almost half were granted status on appeal – meaning the government did recognise them ‘genuine refugees’ on their own terms).

This latter group will be punished and penalised, considered ineligible for family reunification or full refugee protection. It is estimated that this would prevent over 3,000 people – mainly women and children – from uniting with their family members in Britain each year. However, the NBB itself introduces no new safe routes to asylum. The recent trend of creating ‘bespoke’ routes for particular cohorts of refugees – Ukrainians, Afghans, BNO citizens of Hong Kong – leaves anybody who falls outside these groups with no ‘legal’ route to asylum in the UK. A large proportion of those currently granted asylum in the UK (including Eritreans, Sudanese and Iraqis) do fall outside of these narrow categories.

We put up an impassioned fight against this two-tier structure, the core of the new asylum system; and it was the second-to-last issue to be conceded by the Lords. The government has ignored repeated arguments that these new laws undermine our global standing, breach the Refugee Convention and do nothing to ‘break the business model of people smuggling,’ but rather push vulnerable people into even more desperate and dangerous situations.


The NBB also introduces the ‘inadmissibility’ legislation, under which tens of thousands of asylum claimants are set to be sent to offshore processing centres in Rwanda, even if they have close family members living in the UK. This policy was previously implemented and abandoned by the Australian government because of its ineffectuality, its huge cost, and the suffering it caused. These plans, and the Nationality and Borders Bill which provides the legal framework for them, will elongate and obscure the process of claiming asylum in Britain. The UNCHR-UK has stated that this Rwandan deal demonstrates how ‘the UK is looking to shift its responsibilities towards refugees, not share them.’

7000 people have crossed the channel this year, with 2000 people arriving since the Rwanda plans were announced, signalling that it is not yet having the desired deterrent effect. These 7000 people could be removed to Rwanda, although the timeframe for commencing removals has elongated from weeks to months.

We are deeply concerned about the practical, political, financial and not least moral implications of these plans, and the risks they pose to the lives and safety of asylum seekers in search of refuge in the UK. Those whose asylum claims are accepted will be granted asylum in Rwanda, not in the UK. New ‘scientific’ age assessment methods, also introduced in the bill, have raised concerns that unaccompanied minors will end up being deported, particular as three times as many unaccompanied minors have already crossed the channel compared to last year.

The government is already facing two legal challenges relating to its Rwanda deal, one from the civil service union (PCS), Detention Action and Care4Calais, and the other from Freedom from Torture. Both argue that removing second-class refugees to Rwanda is unlawful and, once again, incompatible with international law. Organisations are hopeful about the effectuality of legal action, as the government’s controversial pushbacks policy (which would have seen new maritime tactics designed to ‘push’ those arriving on small boats in the English Channel ‘back’ to France, as currently happens in the Mediterranean) was withdrawn on 24th April, less than a week before it was due to face similar legal challenges by Freedom from Torture and other organisations in the High Court.

We are, and always will be, committed to the principle that, in accordance with the 1951 Refugee Convention, there is no illegal way to claim asylum. We stand in solidarity will all asylum seekers seeking refuge in the UK, regardless of their means of arrival.

What’s next?

Scotland do not support the Anti-Refugee laws. Wales do not support the Anti-Refugee laws. Senior politicians, lawyers, faith leaders, academics and humanitarian groups do not support the Anti-Refugee laws. Many people in Oxfordshire, with whom we worked over the past year, do not support the Anti-Refugee laws. In recent months, 650 households have signed up to host over 1600 Ukrainian refugees, including in ‘Britain’s kindest village’, North Moreton. When the Afghan evacuees arrived last Autumn, Asylum Welcome saw a greater volume of volunteer-sign ups than at any other time. We have spread our message far and wide, engaging with schools and universities, other local organisations and campaign groups.

Thanks to those of you who contributed to our Have Heart, Take Heart campaign, who joined us in public demonstrations, who volunteered your time, signed petitions, wrote to your MPs, and donated to the cause. Thank you to the children who contributed to our Young People’s Week of Action last Autumn. Here’s a round-up of just some of the work we’ve done to show MPs and those in authority that Oxfordshire welcomes all refugees, regardless of how they got here.

  • We have joined over 300 organisations in signing the pledge to fight the Anti-Refugee laws.
  • Refugee Action have also created a template letter to MPs asking them to sign the pledge to fight the anti-refugee laws.
  • We will continue supporting the #LiftTheBan campaign, which made surprisingly positive progress over the course of debates on the NBB, with a number of Conservative MPs and Peers supporting the policy, although eventually it was rejected too.
  • Freedom from Torture have suggested some actions, including signing their open letter to the Prime Minister.
  • We will continue to work with the Together With Refugees coalition of over 400 national and local organisations including refugee-led organisations, international development and domestic charities, human rights groups, trade unions and community groups to ‘continue to scrutinise and pressure the government as it implements this bill and do our best to protect vulnerable people from the worst of its impact.’
  • As part of this coalition, we will continue to push the government to set a clear annual target for resettling refugees under the UK Resettlement Scheme, and to publish its current targets.
  • The Anti-Refugee Laws will face numerous legal challenges. We will support these where we can by publicising and promoting them, showing support and solidarity to those pursuing to soften the cruelty of this bill through testing it in the courts, and creating new case law.
  • We will continue our  monthly advocacy meeting at 4pm on the first  Monday of every month.
  • We are also turning our attention to the opportunities presented by Refugee Week 2022. Find out more about our Refugee Week plans and sign up to volunteer opportunities here.