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by Kirsteen Paterson
23 March 2022
UK Government urged to 'change course' on 'ruthless' Nationality & Borders Bill after crunch vote

Protesters demonstrate against the Nationality and Borders Bill

UK Government urged to 'change course' on 'ruthless' Nationality & Borders Bill after crunch vote

Lords amendments defeated as rumoured Tory rebellion fails to materialise

The head of the Scottish Refugee Council has said "there is still time for the government to change course" on "ruthless" refugee law changes.

There had been suggestions that a Conservative rebellion could cost the UK Government as it moved to undo changes made to the Nationality & Borders Bill by members of the House of Lords.

However, almost all Tory MPs voted with the government to reinstate measures aimed at stemming the flow of asylum seekers to the UK.

Under the provisions of the bill, which has been dubbed the “anti-refugee bill" by critics, those arriving in the UK outwith established legal schemes could face up to four years imprisonment. 

A Lords' amendment that would have allowed asylum seekers to undertake paid work within six months of arrival has been removed by MPs.

Ministers say the measures will allow the UK to "take full control of its borders" and create a "firm but fair" system.

Former ministers David Davis, Andrew Mitchell and Simon Hoare were amongst the few to vote against the government, raising serious concerns about the potential for the 'offshoring' of asylum seekers, as is practiced in Australia.

Ghana, Albania and Rwanda have all been suggested locations for a future UK processing centre. However, all have distanced themselves from this and in yesterday's debate Home Office minister Tom Pursglove said it was "untrue" that ministers are now considering the use of Ascension Island.

However, Conservative MPs did vote to reinstate the clause that would allow such a step to be taken.

According to Pauline Chetcuti of Oxfam, the bill “flagrantly undermines our obligations under international law”.

And Sophie McCann, of Médecins Sans Frontières, said the bill will "enshrine the UK as one of the most anti-refugee countries in the world, at a time when the devastating impact of war and conflict is absolutely evident".

The legislation will now pass back to the House of Lords and Sabir Zazai, the chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council, has urged ministers to "propose an alternative way forward".

Zazai, who arrived in the UK to claim asylum in the back of a lorry, said: "The proposals in the bill are cruel, ruthless and go against the spirit of the UN Refugee Convention, which says nothing about discriminating against people based on how they travelled to the UK.  

"Under these proposals, if a woman fleeing the war in Ukraine travelled independently to the UK to seek refugee protection, she would be judged a criminal and sent back to a warzone. It is immoral, heartless and, we believe, unworkable in practice.

“However, if we can take anything positive from yesterday’s debates, it is the growing criticism of the bill from MPs, including from an increasing number of the UK Government’s own representatives.

“These MPs in particular now must listen to members of the public who want a kinder, more effective approach towards refugees.

“There is still time for the government to change course. We urge ministers to honour their promises to provide safe routes for people seeking safety and agree to the proposal made by the House of Lords that the UK pledges to resettle 10,000 refugees a year from around the world so it doesn’t have to respond on-the-hoof every time an international crisis like Ukraine strikes.

"This must serve as a wake-up call to the UK government that it needs to take reform seriously, show that it is listening to its own MPs, and propose an alternative way forward.”

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