Whilst the Nationality and Borders Bill has now passed through the House of Commons, and is due to return soon having passed through the Lords, I have opposed it at every opportunity as I do not believe it deals with the fundamental issues in our asylum system and represents a challenge to the rights and dignity of migrants (view my speech here). It proposes unworkable solutions that will cost the taxpayer and it undermines international humanitarian conventions at a time when cooperation is needed more than ever.
The Conservative Government says the Bill is needed to stop dangerous crossings of the English Channel and to return people who travel in them. Yet Ministers have failed to negotiate a single returns agreement with EU countries and nothing in this Bill changes that. That is why only five people have been returned this year.
The Tories claim the Bill will mean push backs at sea even though Border Force officials have said it is dangerous and unworkable. The Government claims the Bill will mean offshore processing even though no country has agreed and the cost to the taxpayer is huge. It claims the Bill will fix the asylum system even though it will add even longer delays to asylum cases being assessed. And it claims the Bill will stop trafficking gangs even though it reduces protections for modern slavery and trafficking victims.
I am concerned, therefore, that the Government’s Nationality and Border’s Bill will be a continuation of the breakdown of the asylum system that the Government has overseen since 2010, with application processing times now appallingly slow (view my question to the Government on this issue here). The share of asylum applications that received an initial decision within six months fell from 87% in 2014 to just 20% in 2019 – before the pandemic. I believe the Government should therefore commit to introducing legal targets for processing asylum claims so that they are dealt with in a timely manner.
We know that a lack of safe and legal routes leads to more people risking their lives by making dangerous journeys. Yet, despite noting the importance of safe routes, the Government shamefully closed the Dubs scheme after accepting just 480 unaccompanied children rather than the 3,000 expected. The Government should therefore commit to re-establishing safe and legal routes and help unaccompanied child refugees, while jointly working with other countries to tackle human trafficking.
This, along with the general principles of the Conservative Government’s hostile environment policy, has produced a system in which whilst there may be rules and conditions that facilitate the regularisation process, the actual, practical system and machinery of government does not. Simply put, our immigration system is designed to treat migrants with anything but dignity and respect.
Moreover, I am deeply concerned that the Government’s plan appears to emulate a failed system that has been widely condemned for its human rights abuses. In 2015, a United Nations report found that Australia’s offshore detention regime was systematically violating the international convention against torture. In addition, in 2020, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said the regime was “cruel, inhuman or degrading”, and unlawful under international law.
By treating migrants with a lack of dignity we will continue to put people at risk of abuse and exploitation, unending stress at the hands of impossible bureaucracy, and social exclusion. If you want to know my views further, please watch my recent speech in Parliament (view here).
I have and will continue to write questions to the Government requiring them to clarify their position on their immigration policy, such as:
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what the average time taken is between the submission of an application seeking asylum and her Department’s initial decision. View their response here: https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-questions/detail/2021-11-17/76798
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what steps her Department is taking to help ensure that the Nationality and Borders Bill is compliant with international law. View their response here: https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-questions/detail/2021-11-01/67240
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what steps she is taking to support (a) homeless and (b) other asylum-seeking and refugee women during the covid-19 pandemic. View their response here: https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-questions/detail/2021-02-09/151820
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, how many UK nationals resident in (a) the UK, (b) Berkshire and (c) Slough received the recent letter from her Department advising them to apply for settled status or risk losing rights to work and access healthcare; and what steps her Department is taking to apologise and reassure UK nationals of their rights. View their response here: https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-questions/detail/2021-05-20/4683
View more of my questions and answers here: https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-questions?SearchTerm=&DateFrom=11%2F05%2F2021&DateTo=31%2F07%2F2022&AnsweredFrom=&AnsweredTo=&House=Bicameral&MemberId=4638&Answered=Any&Expanded=true
An amended version of the Bill is due to return to the House of Commons in April after Parliament returns from recess; the Labour Party has and will continue to oppose this Bill as it continues to move through Parliament at all possible opportunities.