Today, the House of Commons is being given a choice to make about its treatment of refugees. Does it back the 19 amendments from the House of Lords to the Nationality and Borders Bill that create a more welcoming and humanitarian approach to refugees, or do MPs nail the doors shut on people fleeing conflict and terror?
These are big changes that Green Party peers have been talking about for a while, but the Russian invasion of Ukraine has brought it home to many more people how the government’s xenophobic policies are being cemented into law.
A few weeks into the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we had the farce of the home secretary talking about non-existent visa desks, families with legitimate claims being turned back and told to head off to Brussels. The sight of the Home Office making up new policies that collapsed within a few hours was comical, but infuriating and predictable. Greens have been calling for the Home Office to be replaced for years. It’s dysfunctional and draconian.
The lowest of many low points was reached when Priti Patel rang her Irish counterpart to complain that Ireland was taking in too many refugees and she was worried that Northern Ireland would act as a backdoor for ‘illegal’ immigration. A Lords amendment deals with this issue
A major reason why the government has failed is because it is determinedly sticking to an anti-immigration agenda at a time when the majority of the country simply wants to reach out and help people.
The approach outlined in the Nationality Bill contradicts everything they need to do to help the people of Ukraine get through this.
First, we had restrictions on families being reunited – the Lords have amended this in the Bill. The government quickly widened this definition for Ukrainian families, as a result of public disgust at their approach, but we need this approach for everyone.
With Ukrainian refugees being turned back at Calais and facing the usual bureaucratic nightmare of getting a UK visa by ‘proper’ means – it highlights the even bigger hurdles faced by people from other Russian warzones like Syria.
The Nationality Bill aims to split refugees into ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ based upon their ability to access the preferred routes the UK government occasionally provides. The Lords just deleted that idea.
With an estimated 10 million people fleeing the war in Ukraine, the bulk of them have initially landed in Poland, Moldova and other bordering countries. There is a clear need to share the burden throughout Europe, but our government isn’t keen on this. When people flee across the border into a neighbouring country, then that is where they have to stay according to the government with the new legislation saying that people who pass through countries like Poland will be automatically put in the ‘illegal’ category. It is an attempt to offshore our responsibilities to help out. Yes, the Lords have amended.
The government has allowed Ukrainians to do documentation online, rather than in person, but this still falls short of the open arms approach taken by the rest of Europe.
The same goes for their Local Sponsorship Scheme which its emphasis on 6 months, rather than 3 years and its complete reliance on the empathy of households who have the extra living space. Also, it has been left to voluntary organisations to find the personal connections with Ukrainians in need, who can then be sponsored.
The EU is giving Ukrainians the right to live, work, access healthcare, housing, and education immediately in any of its member states, without having to go through an asylum application process. Our refugees will have to survive on limited ‘asylum support’ benefits, and face huge delays while their applications progress through a mammoth backlog.
Those Ukrainian refugees with family connections, who do make it here, will be able to work. So why can’t other asylum seekers do the same? The Lords have an amendment to allow people to earn their keep after 6 months which seems reasonable given that some conflicts go on for very long time. The Lords also changed the current policy of No Recourse to Public Funds.
Please lobby your MPs, raise the issue of Ukraine and ask them to support the more humanitarian approach taken by the Lords. If the amendments are rejected and the Nationality Bill passes it will make life worse for refugees from Ukraine and elsewhere.
You can find the key amendments here.
These are the key amendments to the Nationality and Borders Bill that the Lords have passed but the Commons might reject:
· Asylum for genocide victims – to ensure a person who is part of a group at risk of genocide must be presumed to meet conditions for being granted asylum in UK
· Reuniting families – peers voted for a clause which will help unaccompanied child refugees reunite with their family members in the UK. The Lord Dubs’ amendment to the Nationality and Borders Bill will give safe passage to all unaccompanied minors from European countries.
· No offshoring refugees – peers deleted the Home Office power to deflect asylum-seekers off to other countries rather than process their claims in the UK. The government wants to make asylum claims inadmissible in the UK – when they believe someone could have/should have claimed asylum elsewhere. Peers ensured that the Bill’s clause 15 on inadmissible asylum claims can only come into force when safe returns agreements with third countries are in place and that people with outstanding asylum claims to be removed from the UK.
· No criminalisation of asylum seekers – Lords voted to remove the parts of clause 39 that would make it a criminal offence for a person to arrive in the UK without a valid entry clearance to seek asylum.
· No two tier system – the Lords voted to remove clause 11 from the Bill. The clause would effectively create a two-tier asylum system of legal and illegal asylum seekers, based on whether they arrived in the UK with or without official entry clearance.
· Giving safety to unaccompanied children
· Resettle 10k refugees a year
· Rescue people at sea – to ensure that maritime enforcement powers must not endanger life at sea. The amendment specifies that the powers of immigration officers and enforcement officers can only be used when they do not endanger life at sea.
· No criminalisation of people helping asylum seekers if no gain
· Restoring citizens rights for the Chagos Islanders
· Saying no to instant expulsion of people with dual citizenship – the controversial clause 9 was removed from the Bill by 209. Clause 9 would allow the Home Secretary to remove a person’s British citizenship without notice or right of appeal in this country – if that person is one of the many millions who has dual citizenship.
· Refugee convention enacted – Lords voted for adding a new clause to the Bill to ensure that it is enacted in ways that comply with the UK’s obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees.
· Right to work – Lords give people the right to work if they have been waiting for 6 months or more for a decision.
· Allow late disclosure of evidence
· More emphasis in age assessments on believing the child
· Right to remain and financial support for victims of child slavery
· Local journeys from Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland without need for Electronic Travel Authorisation