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.