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by Kirsteen Paterson
18 March 2022
Talking Point: The Nationality & Borders Bill

The Ukraine crisis is asking new questions of the UK's response to refugees

Talking Point: The Nationality & Borders Bill

Before the bill passes, you should know about Marzieh's story

MARZIEH is extraordinary – a woman who stood up against tyranny, a mother who travelled 4,000 miles to keep her family together, a medic who works to help others.

Let me tell you about her. With the Nationality & Borders Bill expected to become an act within a few short weeks, and with war sending millions of Ukrainians scrambling for sanctuary, hers is a story you should know.

Because under the provisions of the legislation put forward by Home Secretary Priti Patel, she’d face up to four years imprisonment for arriving in the UK illegally on the back of a lorry with her young son and daughter as they escaped persecution in Iran.

But she didn’t have the luxury of time to apply to live here. She ran because she’d tried to organise support for a writer critical of Iranian authorities, something that had drawn attention and put her at risk in a system in which the arbitrary detention of dissidents and activists is commonplace.

More Iranians sought asylum in the UK in 2021 than any other nationality, with many citing political persecution.

And so Marzieh and her kids came to Scotland thanks to an uncle who paid the smugglers to stop her family being split up. They spent 15 days on the road, under cover, never knowing where they were. There was a stop in a forest somewhere, she recalls, but that could have been anywhere.

That was in 2016. After being granted asylum, both children are thriving while Marzieh, who is retaking midwifery qualifications here, works as a phlebotomist. Maybe she has treated your family member. Maybe she has treated you. Either way, she’s helped keep NHS Scotland afloat by working through the pandemic, like so many other migrants, like so many other mothers.

Under Clause 11 of the bill as it was introduced, they’d have faced rejection and prosecution for arriving via an irregular route. The UK Government says it wants to crush the criminal networks that profit from trafficking and smuggling, but expert organisations including the Scottish Refugee Council and Maryhill Integration Network say the bill is unlikely to work and it’s the lack of safe, legal routes that drive people into the hands of gangs. That, they say, won’t change under this bill, which has been condemned by everyone from Samaritans CEO Julie Bentley to influential writer Neil Gaiman and which undermines the 1951 Refugee Convention, according to UNHCR.

Their circumstances are different, but I’ve come to watch news reels from Ukraine and see Marziehs there. Women facing impossible odds and looking for any way out.

The House of Lords has voted to strip out Clause 11 from the bill and so the question now is how the UK Government will react. Will they seek to reinstate this, even now amidst public outcry over visas for Ukrainians? It’s hard to remember a time when this was louder.

Whatever the answer, it will have huge consequences. The kind that cross borders.

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