The Nationality and Borders Bill presented by the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, will exacerbate the crisis of the diaspora fleeing different sorts of violence and looking for a safe haven in the United Kingdom. According to experts, the bill openly violates international human rights.
According to the British conservative authorities, the Nationality and Borders Bill being debated in parliament is the cornerstone of a new plan which aims to make the system of asking for and being granted asylum fairer and more efficient.
Its other objectives, adds the government, are to deter illegal immigration, especially across the English Channel, put an end to people trafficking networks, protect immigrants’ lives and deport anyone who does not have the right to be in the country.
To achieve this, and even though parliament has yet to approve the proposal, the British Home Office announced that it is preparing to return to the European continent boats loaded with immigrants intercepted on the narrow but dangerous waterway.
At the same time, it is pressuring France to increase patrols and monitoring systems on the beaches in the north of the country.
To that end, London has even gone as far as offering Paris 54.2 million pounds sterling (some $74 million) to help it absorb the cost and it is considering sending asylum seekers to processing centres in third countries.
It is also threatening to increase the prison sentence for migrants that try to enter the country illegally from six months to four years.
Those who assist them or charge for bringing them to the United Kingdom clandestinely could be given a life sentence instead of the current maximum sentence of 14 years in jail.
For organisations that defend human rights, opposition political parties and institutions concerned with the welfare of refugees, the British conservative government’s plans lack compassion and even legality, since they could contravene the obligations London signed up to under the UN Refugee Convention.
James Bulman, from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in London, said to Prensa Latina when questioned about this that the international organisation he represents believes that Britain’s Nationality and Borders Bill will not achieve the objectives claimed by the government.
Bulman states that “although we recognise the need to regulate immigration, guarantee the security of borders and tackle people trafficking gangs, we believe it would be more appropriate to implement an effective system of repatriation of those who in reality do not need protection and reach an agreement with neighbouring countries over shared responsibility.”
Even those who are not sent to prison will suffer the stigma of being considered second class citizens, will be denied access to public funds unless they are destitute and will see their right to have family members join them restricted, warned the official. He also considers that the financial, personal and social cost for those refugees will be very high.
After highlighting the long track record built up by the United Kingdom as a country willing to welcome immigrants, evidenced by the announcement that it will receive 20,000 Afghans over five years, Bulman criticises the slow pace at which the system for processing asylum applications operates, with some 70,000 people awaiting a decision from the immigration authorities.
Likewise he feels that an end must be put to the use of former military barracks as refugee camps as soon as possible, given the impact that overcrowding and lack of privacy have on people’s physical and mental health.
“We hope that soon it will be possible to return to the traditional method of accommodating asylum seekers in the community and that’s why we are calling on local authorities to contribute those facilities”, he says.
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) also feels that the bill, which seeks to toughen immigration laws rather than amend the current system, will result in traffickers looking for even more dangerous routes. A fair system would be one that protects refugees based on their needs, without taking into account their method of travel, commented the policy director of the JCWI, Zoe Gardner, in a recent exchange with members of the British parliament.
Gardner reminded the lawmakers that closing routes such as the English Channel will simply make traffickers look for even more complicated and dangerous routes to transport people desperate to reach the United Kingdom.
In this official’s judgement, until we offer a real alternative and safe means of travelling to the United Kingdom, all the money that we spend on security and every attempt to amend the failed system of pressures and threats will be celebrated by the human trafficking gangs because it simply helps them to fill their pockets even more.
Over 14,000 immigrants have crossed the English Channel in rickety and overloaded craft so far this year headed for the south coast of England, a number far in excess of the 8,400 of 2020. This figure does not include immigrants who are moved across the border secretly in people trafficking operations and only come to light when they are detected by the police or when tragedies occur such as the one in October 2019 when 39 people were found asphyxiated inside a refrigerated lorry on a business park in Essex, in the south of England. (PL)