As the Nationality & Borders Bill returns to Parliament for its third reading, voices from Northern Ireland are rejecting this barbaric piece of legislation. Northern Ireland wants to welcome people fleeing persecution. In 2019, 65% of people surveyed in the Northern Ireland Life & Times Survey agreed that it is our duty to provide protection to refugees who are escaping persecution, with only 10% disagreeing. The Bill flies in the face of Northern Ireland’s commonly held values for the following reasons:
- The Bill criminalises people coming to the United Kingdom without permission, but it does not provide for or create safe & legal routes to asylum. Not only does this contradict the Refugee Convention, it punishes those with no other option but to take irregular routes due to lack of legal routes.
- UNHCR published its assessment of the bill, concluding that a policy based on claiming asylum in the first safe country reached is unworkable & will add more strain to developing countries. ‘First safe country’ is not a viable concept & will destroy the global asylum and protection system.
- The United Kingdom Government claims that it wants to prevent people trafficking, but this Bill pushes people into the hands of traffickers, into dinghies and into lorry containers by closing other schemes and routes to asylum.
- The United Kingdom Government also intends to criminalise those who save people’s lives, whilst using Border Force to carry out actions which could result in deaths at sea. Even Border Force & their trade union, the PCS oppose any role that Border Force could have in these operations.
- There will be an acceleration in the use of ‘reception centres’ and in particular, camps. Camps such as Napier Barracks, have repeatedly been found to be unfit for human habitation. Even in the event that militarised barrack facilities are not used in all scenarios, the plan for ‘reception centres’ is a carbon copy of Direct Provision at best, a system utterly discredited on human rights grounds in Ireland.
- The Bill also makes provision for offshore processing of asylum claims. Conservative MP, David Davis predicted that this could become a “British Guantanamo Bay”. The British Medical Association (BMA), which has nearly 160,000 members, say that the bill and its plans for “offshoring” will cause “lasting and profound harm to the health and wellbeing” of people seeking asylum.
- People fleeing persecution deserve permanent stability & safety. The plan to offer potentially only temporary leave to remain means that there may be no right to family reunion and the constant threat of expulsion.
- Non-Irish EU citizens will need to apply for pre-departure clearance to cross the border in Northern Ireland. Not only does this create a hard border for some people resident on the island, it introduces the prospect of discriminatory ID & passport checking for people travelling North.
- Finally, the Bill has been recently updated so that the Government can strip someone of British citizenship without notice. This amendment means that certain citizens, despite being born and brought up in the UK and having no other home, remain migrants. Their citizenship, and therefore all their rights, become precarious and contingent.
It is imperative that the bill should not receive the support of Northern Irish politicians at Parliament. However, should it become law, the Northern Ireland Assembly must be ready to offer resistance and protection to refugees, people seeking asylum, new communities and whoever calls this place home.