For various reasons, marginalised people like myself and vulnerable asylum seekers arriving by boat to UK shores are rarely heard from. Nevertheless, we have a lot to say to you. The UK government’s proposed Nationality and Borders Bill is politically expedient, not principled.
I attempt to put myself in the shoes of those desperate asylum seekers who put their life on the line knowing they may not make it to their destination. Unfortunately, while you, as a reader, and I, as a writer, and those policymakers in our safe place have the option to choose sides, the sea does not. The sea does not care where you come from or who you are; the sea does not discriminate; and the sea can kill, particularly those in those fragile boats.
These asylum seekers are heroes fleeing persecution, oppressive governments, and, in many cases, wars in search of protection, security, and a better life. These asylum seekers are actual heroes, but if the current bill is passed, they will become criminals the moment they arrive in the UK.
It should be highlighted that arriving in the United Kingdom by sea is not already a crime, but it will be if the law is passed. It’s important to remember that the right to seek asylum is not contingent on the means of arrival. The bill is predicated on a two-tiered discriminatory approach to asylum, distinguishing between those who arrive legally, such as through resettlement and family reunion visas, and those who arrive irregularly. Access to asylum and protection in the UK would undoubtedly become significantly more difficult for individuals who enter the country irregularly.
Readers should keep in mind that an asylum seeker’s right to seek and enjoy refuge does not depend on their regular arrival in a country. Throughout the world, asylum seekers are often compelled to enter or enter a region without prior authorization. Restricting access to the UK Asylum System for irregular arrivals is neither an effective nor a viable solution to the system’s current deficiencies.
The bill proposes the creation of a substandard ‘temporary protection status’ based on an individual’s circumstances of entry into the UK. It creates a category of refugees who are denied the full range of rights provided by the 1951 Convention, including the right to family life and prospects for integration. The proposed ‘temporary protection status’ would be an unfair penalty for asylum seekers who have already been treated unfairly by the country they are fleeing from. It would also create a group of people who will be reliant on the state for a long period of time, unable to contribute fully to society because the system has discriminated against them.
It is frequently said that asylum seekers are arriving from France–a safe country–and that they should have sought asylum in their first country of arrival. But we must remember that the law does not require them to do this. Asylum seekers have the right to seek asylum anywhere they feel safe and appropriate. Many asylum seekers come to the UK for a variety of reasons, including having family, relatives, or a well-established community in the country, or other relevant connections. I am concerned that if the bill becomes law, asylum seekers will be denied refuge based on the premise that persons should seek asylum in the first secure country they reach.
There are also alarming proposals in the bill for legal changes that would allow the United Kingdom Government, in the future, to continue to develop offshore asylum processing capacity while still complying with international responsibilities. I’d want to remind readers of evidence suggesting that offshoring asylum procedures frequently results in coercive transfers of refugees to nations with inadequate asylum processes, treatment standards, and resources.Asylum seekers may be kept indefinitely in remote areas, placing their lives in considerable danger.
The reader should keep in mind that the United Kingdom was among the core group of countries that drafted the 1951 Convention and was among the first to sign and ratify it, taking the lead in putting refugee protection into action. Now the question remains as to what example we will project on the world stage if the bill becomes law.
The tragic irony is that one of the several reasons forced migrants wind up in the UK is because of the links created throughout colonialism and the British Empire. The majority of asylum seekers in the United Kingdom indeed come from former colonies.
A more inclusive and cost-effective strategy would begin with solidarity, refusing categorization of immigrants based on their mode of entry into the UK, and recognizing the humanity of all migrants as individuals with their own histories, skills, experiences, and dreams. Providing asylum seekers with the opportunity to integrate and contribute to society, for example through work and education, would benefit everyone.
The article was first published in the Big Issue Magazine’s online edition on August 19, 2021, and then in the Refugee Special edition on August 23, 2021.