On 27th April, the Anti Refugee Bill (The Nationality and Borders Bill) passed in parliament and today it has received royal assent and become law. This is a dark moment in our country’s history and something that will no doubt cause international shame to our country.
One of the most alarming acts of this government is how they have dressed up this Bill to sound humanitarian, as if they are protecting refugees but in fact the intentions are dark and extremely harmful.
The government has said one of the reasons for this bill is to stop people smuggling. However, by removing safe and legal routes for refugees it actually passes more power to smugglers and traffickers, as people are left in incredibly vulnerable situations that will no doubt be exploited by gangs promising access to this country at a cost of money or life.
This new bill condemns refugees to poverty and strips them of their right to life and safety. The bill no doubt will also cripple the asylum system with delays, inefficiencies and errors which in turn will fail the people who are meant to be protected.
Almost all people who have arrived by boat in the UK go on to claim asylum here. This shows us something very clear - they all have a legitimate reason for making the desperate attempt to come to the UK. They are refugees.
How will the Anti Refugee Bill Affect Refugees?
The government are going to divide refugees into two categories. One category for those who come through legal routes (there are currently no routes for unaccompanied young people who we work with) and those who come over via other means (for example by crossing the channel by boat).
The first category will be treated as refugees are treated now (they will be able to apply for asylum) and the latter will be criminalized and stripped of their rights by being given only temporary protection. They will then likely be deported or indefinitely detained in the UK or in Rwanda.
This Bill is particularly cruel when you realize the government has made sure there are very few legal routes to get into the UK and there is no way of claiming asylum until you land on British soil. Refugees are refused visas to come here and so with no formal ways to arrive in the UK, it leaves refugees vulnerable to exploitation from smugglers and traffickers. This bill therefore will be completely ineffective at stopping the business of people smuggling or of holding them accountable for the harm done to people in the process.
How Will This Affect Young People That The Hummingbird Work With?
Most of the young people we work with have not been able to access legal routes to come to the UK and have therefore made their own way here. Many will have been smuggled and trafficked and some will have experienced a significant level of child abuse along the way. Currently there is a high rate of young people coming through smuggling routes, and when they arrive here they are extremely vulnerable and in need of support. From this point onwards, we are not aware of whether young people can be taken from care and sent to Rwanda to be indefinitely detained.
The Home Office has not been able to reassure us whether this will affect children or not. Whether the detention of children will be possible or not, we have seen many of the young people we work with age assessed as over 18 but then when challenged and reassessed by a social worker, shown to be a child under 18.
We fear that if young people will not be able to access services like ours due to being detained, who will stand with them as they are unfairly and inhumanely processed? What laws will protect young people from being deported and detained? Will we even be able to see them before they are hidden away through these new draconian measures?
Is The Government Basing Their Approach On Evidence?
Evidence actually shows that these kinds of approaches do not have a deterrent effect and also it is unbelievably expensive to fund. The new processes will cause more work for an already underfunded department in government and will leave refugees in limbo for months or even years. Costs are associated with backlogs, interim accommodation, payoffs to Rwanda (which is to cost hundreds of millions of pounds), flights, border security, imprisonment etc. It will be the charities like ours who will also feel a financial impact as our work becomes more complex and the needs of our young people become much greater.
The human cost is the most concerning of all. The plans to offshore the detention of Refugees to Rwanda are a similar approach to that of Australia. Australia detained refugees on Manus Island and it cost the Australian taxpayer billions of dollars whilst deeply traumatizing the people who were detained there indefinitely. There were mass suicide attemps on Manus Island by those who were detained with one person being reported setting themselves on fire, to try and end their life. Eventually detention in Manus Island was found to be illegal and now the country is paying millions of pounds in compensation to people who were left harmed by the process.
How Can You Help?
Your solidarity and action is needed now more than ever. We must come together and do all we can to challenge this government's inhumane plans.
Here are some suggestions for you to think about. Let's start by thinking about our everyday actions- do we need to be educating ourselves more on the anti refugee bill, or the struggles people face when they seek safety in our country? Are we opening up conversations with people who are fearful of refugees? Could we be writing to our MP to express our concerns? Consider signing this pledge from Refugee Action and show you are standing with refugees by taking action in the coming months.
Keep an eye on our social media pages regarding this, and you might also be interested in following Freedom From Torture and Refugee Council too.
Finally, we would like to highlight that this bill should not be seen in isolation, but seen alongside other acts by the government such as the Policing Bill which restricts protest, and the review of human rights legislation which essentially limits our ability to challenge these human rights abuses.
Together we have a greater chance of making change.
You can support our work by donating here: https://chuffed.org/project/support-for-local-young-refugees