I voted against the Nationality and Borders Bill in the House of Commons on the 20th of July. The Bill was meant to tackle the problems created by the Conservatives during the last 11 years, however, it disappointingly only worsens the crises.
The UK has a proud history of helping people fleeing violence and persecution. Likewise, Sheffield is proud of its welcoming and open tradition as the UK’s first city of sanctuary. As people are driven from their homes in the most desperate circumstances, the UK must always stand with those seeking safety. Unfortunately, I believe the Government’s approach to this long-standing obligation has been lacking in competence and compassion.
The Nationality and Borders Bill aims to implement several proposed changes to the UK’s asylum system including differential treatment based on how an asylum seeker arrives in the UK; harsher sentences; and unconscionable plans to hold asylum seekers in offshore hubs.
As the UN has warned, I believe the Bill and the Government’s proposals are an open breach of the 1951 Refugee Convention. The reality of the Government’s proposals is that they will reduce support for victims of human trafficking and make the dangerous situation in the Channel even worse.
I am concerned that the Bill does nothing to address the breakdown in the asylum system that the Government has overseen since 2010, with application processing times now appallingly slow. The share of asylum applications that received an initial decision within six months fell from 87% in 2014 to just 20% in 2019. I believe the Government should therefore commit to introducing legal targets for processing asylum claims so that they are dealt with promptly.
Recent events have highlighted how 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.
As you know, the Bill will require potential victims of trafficking or modern slavery to provide information relevant to their claim within a specified period. Victims, particularly children, often feel too traumatised to talk about their experience at an early stage. It is therefore concerning that, under these proposals, evidence given late could damage a person’s credibility. I know that EPCAT UK, which works to protect children from trafficking and exploitation, has also raised concerns about these measures, including noting that criminal exploitation is the most reported form of abuse for potential child victims.
The Government’s reforms therefore also risk weakening protections for victims of modern slavery, leaving greater numbers of victims without support and more gangmasters free to commit further crimes.
This Bill is indicative of a Government that can only look inwards and is blind to the world beyond our borders. More generally, one of the key drivers of people fleeing their homes to seek sanctuary elsewhere is the impact of poverty, wars and persecution. I think it is therefore unforgivable that the Government decided to abolish the Department for International Development last year and to reduce the UK’s funding for overseas aid.
It is evident that this Bill is part of a wider attitude of disregard for our international responsibilities by the Government. As the Nationality and Borders Bill is considered in Parliament, I will be calling for meaningful action to support people, improve the chaotic and inhumane asylum system and bring criminal gangs to justice.