The UK Government’s new asylum and immigration rules will “rip-up” international rules on refugees, it has been warned.
The Home Office introduced on Tuesday afternoon its Nationality and Borders Bill, which will bring major changes to the way the country processes and accepts people from overseas.
Knowingly arriving in the UK without correct documentation will now become an offence, with the penalty rising from six months imprisonment to a maximum of five years.
Currently there are nearly 110,000 asylum claims currently being processed by the Home Office, who claim as many as 62% of those who have applied have arrived in the UK “illegally”.
The Conservative government said the cost of the programme amounts to more than £1 billion per year of public money.
The Bill includes clauses to allow the UK to be able to send asylum seekers to a “safe third country” and to submit claims at a “designated place” determined by the Secretary of State.
Although little detail is provided on this, officials believe the Bill gives the potential to allow for offshore processing centres to be set up overseas, akin to policies used in Australia.
This could give rise to reports that the UK is considering sharing a processing centre with Denmark in Rwanda and may even revive speculation over suggestions that Ascension Island could be sought as another destination.
The Home Office has refused to comment on the progress of any negotiations but talks with some countries are said to be ongoing.
Under the new bill, border force operatives would have the powers to send would-be asylum seekers to the country where they left, for example France if they had attempted the dangerous Channel crossing via small boat.
The UK Government said doing so would help deter “people smuggling” and would also allow asylum seekers the opportunity to apply from a “third country”.
No firm agreement has been arranged between the UK and French governments surrounding the plans to turn British-bound refugees back toward the European mainland, but the EU has previously said it would not accept British proposals to do so.
Nationals of EU member states will be “inadmissible” from applying for asylum. As such, they would not have the right to “appeal” the decision to refuse asylum, because they had no “legal right” to apply for it in the first instance.
“Anti-refugee Bill will solve nothing”
The Scottish Refugee Council’s head of policy, communications and communities, Gary Christie, said: “The UK Government’s Nationality and Borders Bill present the biggest threat to refugee rights we have seen in the UK for decades.
“The proposals have at their heart the dangerous concept that people’s need for protection should be judged by the way route people take to reach the UK, rather than the fear of persecution that forces them to flee.
“In criminalising those who have every right to seek our protection, this bill shamefully breaches the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and continues Boris Johnson’s Government’s flagrant disregard for international law. These are not the actions of a truly global Britain.
“The UK Government has also made no firm commitments to creating further safe and legal routes for people seeking protection to reach the UK. The asylum system is under pressure.
“But this anti-refugee bill will not solve any of its real problems which have been caused not by the comparatively small number of people seeking asylum, but by decades of Home Office mismanagement.
“We urgently need to see reform to the asylum system which is based on fairness, humanity and efficiency, not these cruel, costly and reprehensible proposals.”
SNP’s Shadow Home Secretary Stuart McDonald MP said: “The Tory government’s Nationality and Borders Bill is absolutely abhorrent – a dark day that sees the UK ripping up the Refugee Convention and trashing its previous history of providing a place of refuge.
“The warnings could not be clearer – vulnerable people and refugees seeking safety will now be treated as criminals, cruelly turned back, and even sent to offshore detention facilities.
“Refugees will be faced with insecurity, poverty and split apart from their families like never before. Rather than recognising the real harm this Bill will inflict, the Tory government is instead living up to its nasty party tag.
“It’s clear beyond any doubt that the only way to build a fairer and more equal society, with a migration system that puts compassion and fairness at its core, is to become an independent country.”
“Firm but fair”
The UK Government claimed its radical overhaul was much needed, with Home Secretary Priti Patel announcing the country would have a “firm but fair” policy.
Minister for Scotland Iain Stewart said: “Scotland, and the whole of the UK, has a proud tradition of welcoming those fleeing persecution and conflict.
“This legislation will create an immigration system that works for the UK and for those who have genuine need for our help. We will be firm on the ruthless criminal gangs who profit from facilitating illegal entry, while continuing to welcoming those who truly need refuge.”