UNHCR welcomes Lords' amendments to the Nationality and Borders Bill and calls on government to back them
UNHCR, the Refugee Agency, calls on the UK government to back amendments made to the Nationality and Borders Bill which were passed today in the House of Lords, believing the changes would significantly improve the new piece of legislation.
The key amendment passed by the House of Lords on February 28 was the removal of Clause 11 from the Bill. This clause would relegate most refugees claiming asylum in the UK to a new, lesser status with fewer rights and benefits and a constant threat of removal, and is in direct breach of the Refugee Convention.
This reduced status would cause unnecessary suffering to thousands of refugees fleeing war and persecution, delay and perhaps impede integration and therefore likely result in greater costs to the taxpayer.
“The dynamics behind the Channel crossings are extremely complex, and there is no single solution,” said Larry Bottinick, Acting UNHCR Representative to the UK. “There is however a real risk of compounding the problem with measures that are not fit for purpose,” he added.
UNHCR agrees with the government on the need for asylum reform and for solutions to help reduce the number of irregular channel boat crossings, but any response must be in accordance with international law and the Refugee Convention to safeguard the rights of those seeking asylum.
As a solution, UNHCR calls on the government to fast track the negotiation of an agreement with the European Union to facilitate the safe, legal, two-way transfer of asylum seekers across the English Channel.
Such an agreement would help those with compelling reasons to come to the UK, notably family ties, to do so legally and safely, while those without international protection needs or who have already claimed asylum in another European country could be readmitted.
“The measures proposed in the Bill are extremely unlikely to achieve their stated objective. They will however inflict suffering, and increase the inefficiencies and the costs of the asylum system in the UK. They will also undermine the international protection regime globally,” added Bottinick.
Other significant amendments passed by the House of Lords includes the removal of Clause 9 on statelessness and changes to provisions on admissibility, outlined in Clause 15.
UNHCR welcomes the removal of Clause 9 which would have broadened the powers of the Secretary of State to deprive a person of British nationality of their citizenship without notice, creating real risks of statelessness for them and their children.
Clause 15 of the Bill, which was passed today, contain powers to declare asylum claims as "inadmissible" if someone has passed through, or has a connection to, a third country and would allow the government to send those people to any "safe" country and would allow the government to send those people to any "safe third country" that would accept them.
Amendments to this clause will require the UK to ensure that a return agreement is in place before any inadmissibility decision could be made.
In February 2021, UNHCR put forward a framework for reforms the Home Office could implement to help improve its asylum system, simplify processing and avoid unnecessary appeals and backlogs.
UNHCR believes that prompt, high-quality decision making will help ensure the return of those without protection needs while successfully integrating those granted refugee status.
UNHCR also notes that the majority of refugees from Africa, the Middle East and Asia do not come to the UK or even to Europe, but rather seek protection in neighboring countries.
The UK should maintain and, where possible, strengthen support to those States already hosting the vast majority of refugees. It should also contribute to addressing the root causes of forced migration, and by strengthening pathways like resettlement and family reunion.
For more information on the Nationality and Borders Bill, and to read UNHCR's previous press releases and legal observations visit our dedicated webpage.
You can read and download UNHCR's legal observations here.
- Christine Pirovolakis, [email protected], +44 07931 832 164