Thank you to the many constituents who got in touch to raise their concerns about the Government’s Nationality and Borders Bill.
The UK has a proud history of helping people fleeing violence and persecution and if we want to continue to present ourselves as global leaders we must continue to do so. As people are driven from their homes, in the most desperate circumstances, the UK must always stand with people seeking safety and offer them to chance to rebuild their live Unfortunately, I believe the Government’s approach to this long-standing obligation has been lacking in competence, strategy and compassion. Our current system is not fit for purpose too often heaping trauma on people who have fled unimaginable situations and just want to be safe.
Earlier this year, the Government announced several proposed changes to the UK’s asylum system including differential treatment based on how an asylum seeker arrives in the UK; harsher sentences; and unconscionable plans to detain those seeking asylum in offshore hubs. These were rightly met with condemnation from human rights groups and refugee charities. The Nationality and Borders Bill seeks to implement these proposals and I voted against it at its second reading in the House of Commons on 20 July.
As the UN has warned, I believe the Bill and the Government’s proposals are an open breach of the 1951 Refugee Convention and abdicate our international responsibilities. This Bill is divisive and fails on its stated goal of breaking up trafficking gangs. Instead the Bill’s proposals will criminalise and punish people who arrive in the UK, in pursuit of safety and stability, without permission. Instead of compassion vulnerable people will be met with the threat of a four-year prison sentence. This is not only morally wrong but a waste of taxpayer’s money which could be spent on underfunded public services like schools and our NHS. The Refugee Council estimate these proposals will cost £412 million a year, five times that of being supported in the asylum support system. I fear that the Government’s proposals will reduce support for victims of human trafficking, drive vulnerable people into the arms of traffickers, and make the dangerous situation in the Channel even worse.
The Home Secretary has pledged to fix the ‘broken asylum system’ but the Conservatives have had over a decade to do so. This Bill does nothing to address over a decade of failure and current systemic dysfunction. On a daily basis I am contacted by frustrated constituents who are stuck in the limbo of appallingly slow Home Office decisions. The share of asylum applications that received an initial decision within six months fell from 87% in 2014 to just 20% in 2019. These delays, and the accompanying uncertainty and anxiety, are damaging. The Bill’s proposals promise to extend this uncertainty so that even where vulnerable people are granted asylum they will be have to renew their status on a more regular basis incurring huge costs. At present, many people awaiting decisions are living in destitution, frustrated about being unable to work and reliant on charities to survive. I believe the Government should therefore commit to introducing legal targets for processing asylum claims so that they are dealt with in a humane and timely manner.
We know that a lack of safe and legal routes leads to more people risking their lives by making dangerous journeys. Yet, despite noting the importance of safe routes, the Government shamefully closed the Dubs scheme after accepting just 480 unaccompanied children rather than the 3,000 expected. The Government should therefore urgently commit to re-establishing safe and legal routes and help unaccompanied child refugees, while jointly working with other countries to tackle human trafficking.
More generally, we know that one of the key drivers of people fleeing their homes to seek sanctuary elsewhere is the impact of poverty, wars and persecution. This pandemic has underlined the ways in which we are globally interconnected and our safety and wellbeing depends on each other. I think it is therefore deeply regrettable that the Government took the decision to abolish the Department for International Development last year and to reduce the UK’s funding for overseas aid.
I am proud that Lewisham is now a borough of sanctuary and it is clear the ways in which Lewisham Deptford has been enriched by the many people who have chosen to make a home here. As the Nationality and Borders Bill is considered in Parliament, I will be calling for meaningful action to support vulnerable people, wholescale reform to the chaotic and inhumane asylum system and measures that will bring traffickers who profit off of persecution to justice.