The Tories’ nasty Nationality and Borders Bill looks to criminalise vulnerable asylum seekers. In keeping the borders shut, even rescuing a drowning migrant could be criminalised.
Attacks on migrants from the Tories aren’t new—but the latest bill will punish harshly those who make the desperate journey to safety in Britain.
And it creates a starker divide between the myth of “good” migrants and “bad” ones who don’t suit the Tories’ agenda.
For the first time, how an asylum seeker travelled to Britain will determine the success of their application. Those travelling “illegally” will face deportation, up to four years in prison, and limited rights in Britain.
Home secretary Priti Patel claims the new law will ensure Britain’s asylum system is “based on need, not the ability to pay people smugglers.”
The 1951 Refugee Convention protects the right to be able to travel to a country, regardless of how, and make an application for asylum. And after Brexit, Britain left the European Union’s Dublin scheme, meaning it can no longer transfer asylum seekers to EU states.
The bill will also lead to attempts to deport asylum seekers who have passed through a “safe country”, making the process longer. Patel claims that visas will be halted from countries that refuse to take back refugees.
It also contains powers to allow asylum claims to be processed outside Britain.
A maximum life sentence will be introduced for those convicted of people smuggling. But the Home Office has been attempting to criminalise refugees on dinghies who are forced to steer the devices or face capsizing and death.
Derelict camps such as Napier Barracks in Kent may also be the only accommodation available to punish asylum seekers who travel through safe countries.
Amir has been waiting almost a year for an asylum interview regarding his application. He believes the bill shows “how cruel it is to be hostile to vulnerable people”.
“Without preparing safe and legal routes to the country, the government is criminalising the ones who have made it to Britain,” Amir explained to Socialist Worker. “It doesn’t want asylum seekers here. Priti Patel says the system is fair but firm.
“In reality it’s tough, cruel and hostile. People do desperate things when they are desperate. Who would want to put themselves, their children and their families on a boat?”
Amir added, “There is no safe and legal route for asylum seekers. You have to make an application in Britain. It’s the government who made them illegal in the first place by closing off legal routes.”
Patel and the Tories have focused on ramping up culture wars to divide people. Their attacks on migrants and refugees during the pandemic were an attempt to scapegoat and shift blame away from their murderous failures. They also claim that migrants are pouring into the country. Yet in the year ending November 2020, Britain received 35,355 asylum applications—a 20 percent fall on the previous year.
Meanwhile Germany had the highest number of asylum applications in the EU at 120,320.
Since the Tories expanded the resettlement scheme in September 2015, just 19,768 refugees have been resettled in Britain. Despite the drop, nearly 50,000 asylum seekers have been waiting for over six months for an application decision, up from 11,500 three years ago.
In the wake of the bill, Amir thinks “we have to expect more being in limbo, dealing with so many unpredictable things, so they cannot plan for their lives.”
“People are going to suffer,” he added. “The government and Home Office’s attitude didn’t develop in one week.
“It’s been decades of spreading misinformation and lying to the public, with help from newspapers like the Sun, the Daily Mail and the Telegraph.
“They see no harm in blaming immigrants. They put pictures up of ‘invaders’, ‘savages’ and ‘illegals’ so people conclude that these are criminals going to harm our country.
“We have to fight to inform people about the reality of the asylum system and why people are making the dangerous journey, with no legal route.”
Diane Abbott MP // Bell Ribeiro Addy MP // Clare Moseley Care4Calais // Kenan ex-Penally camp refugee // Pinar Aksu human rights campaigner, and leading activist in Glasgow dawn raid action // Wilf Sullivan TUC Race Equality Officer // Mark Serwotka PCS general secretary. Register at bit.ly/3wonBh2 Hosted by Stand Up To Racism and Care4Calais
‘This is politics, not just charity’
Meriel Goss is an activist in West Wales who worked with refugees locked away in the now shut Penally Camp.
“It does feel like they’re taking it up another level to penalise and stigmatise some of the most vulnerable,” she told Socialist Worker.
“Asylum seekers can be made to wait up to three years for an interview. They’ll be making roots and working out where the doctors or lawyers are. Then they’re moved on with sometimes less than 24 hours’ notice to the other side of Britain and have to start again.
“The system is deliberately fragmenting and destabilising.”
Meriel says a lot of language surrounding legislation and regulations “is deliberately vague”.
And she explained that threats are constantly used against asylum seekers. “They are told ‘do this, or it’ll go down on your file’,” she said.
“It’s used both ways—do this and it’ll look good, but it’s really not true. It’s used to control asylum seekers and those standing by them in solidarity.”
Sally Kincaid is the joint district secretary of the NEU education union in Wakefield. She fostered a refugee, but told Socialist Worker under the new bill “he wouldn’t have got leave to remain—it’s evil.”
Sally explained that from border security to deportations, there is a “big business”.
“Those finding lorry drivers, running initial accommodation centres and detention camps—they make a massive amount of money. They’re the real criminals.
“So many people have supported refugees over the last five to six years, including individuals, volunteer groups, faith groups and trade union groups.
“We have to bring them together to say we’ve got to stop this. It’s not just about charity, but politics.
“Mistrust of the government is increasing—the anti-asylum bill seeps into mistrust of the police bill. We need a united movement.”
‘There’s no way to design a system more awful than this’
Daymen has been granted refugee status and was held in Penally Camp in West Wales while his application was being processed.
He told Socialist Worker that government officials look for possible evidence of travel through other countries so that people can be repulsed.
“Some refugees have been sent disturbing letters from the Home Office saying an investigation has found some connection to you with France,” he says.
The Tories’ plan to send asylum seekers, including victims of trafficking and torture, to third countries to be processed has scared many. “They don’t want to be sent back out of Europe,” Daymen said. “So some leave the camp.”
Daymen said that charities that work with refugees are vital in providing food, clothing, legal advice and interpreters.
“Already we struggle to visit camps in Britain,” he said. “So how are we going to do that overseas? It’s part of the plan to isolate people.”
Daymen said that the resettlement scheme “is so selective”.
Daymen escaped his home country, Syria, in 2016 to register at a camp, but people he met had been waiting for three years.
“I didn’t know which country I’d go to, I had no choice. Thousands of people were stuck trying to win in a lottery scheme,” he explained.
“The government here shouldn’t be proud of the scheme, but instead improve it if they want to depend on it.” Only one percent of the world’s refugees are accepted through these schemes. Daymen was forced to go back to his home country, where he was tortured. After escaping again in 2018 he attempted to apply for asylum in Turkey, Lebanon and Greece, but he was rejected.
“I did not have the privilege of a legal route to seek asylum,” he said. “Under the new plan, they would have judged me by the way I arrived.
“The Home Office under current laws can’t send me to other counties. They have seen the marks on my body and given me status. But this will not happen for others who come.
“At the beginning of the journey, you have hope—hope that life starts the moment you touch land from crossing the sea.
“Now people will come to this point and their hope is taken—then they’ll be ready to take their own life, they have nothing to stay and live for.
“There is no way to design a more awful system than this.”
The Tories’ hostile environment makes it not only impossible for people to get to Britain, but it ensures life is difficult here too.
Daymen said that refugees face daily stereotypes and racism. “When I read my email saying I was now a refugee, I didn’t feel good, I was crying. Why do I have to celebrate that I am a refugee? I don’t have any hope to see my family again.
“If you’re rich, you are given a visa, so being wealthy means you’re more human than us.”
Tories keep moving goal posts
Julian Bild is a solicitor from the Anti-Trafficking Labour Exploitation Unit. He told Socialist Worker the Tories have “scavenged around the world for the worst aspects of other people’s asylum systems.”
“The government will hope the message goes out globally so that people no longer flee persecution because they won’t get much here in Britain,” he said.
Delays in decision making on asylum are entirely down to Home Office policies and priorities.
“Britain has managed far higher numbers of asylum seekers in the past. So the idea that the system is broken for some structural reason is nonsense.
“The Tories have broken it, they’ve been in power for 11 years. Yet they blame it on desperate asylum seekers—it’s appalling,” he said.
Julian explained that the Home Office regards “genuine refugees” as “people who have languished in a camp for years”.
“But this isn’t the reality for most asylum seekers fleeing persecution, civil war, or because of their religion, sexuality and politics,” he added.
“This forces them into the arms of people smugglers when there’s no safe route for them to survive.
“It’s a complete myth that there are legal routes. To say the bill is aimed at people smugglers is a lie—it’s aimed at stopping people getting here, full stop.”
Julian says another “nasty issue” in the bill is the provisions that make it “harder for them to access protection by raising the standard of proof.”
This means that even if an application can be made, the Home Office can reject more claims.
“A clear majority are found to be in genuine need, and this undermines the Tories’ argument about people gaining from the system,” Julian said.
“Changing the standard of proof is demanding more from an asylum seeker or victim of trafficking.
“It’s setting people up to fail. If you haven’t provided enough proof or evidence, they will send people back to be persecuted and exploited.”