UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel, will push ahead with plans to block access to UK visas for countries who refuse to take back asylum seekers. The plans, first mooted in March 2021, are set to be launched under the new Nationality and Borders Bill, which will also give UK Border Force staff the power to turn away small boats filled with migrants crossing the Channel.
The proposed legislation, presented in parliament recently, will give Patel and future home secretaries the power to suspend or delay the processing of applications from countries that the UK ‘believes are refusing to cooperate with the UK government in relation to the removal of nationals of that country who require leave to enter or remain in the UK but don’t have it’.
Meanwhile, the clause in the bill that will allow for UK visa access to be blocked will allow the Home Secretary to impose additional financial requirements for UK visa applications – meaning an increase in fees – if countries fail to cooperate.
The proposals to block UK visa access for countries who refuse to take back asylum seekers mirror a similar policy in the United States, which allows officials to withdraw US visa routes from countries that refuse to take back undocumented immigrants.
It’s understood that countries such as Iraq, Iran, Eritrea and Sudan are reluctant to cooperate with the UK on such matters.
According to a report published by The Guardian, plans to block UK visas for countries who don’t take back asylum seekers are just one of many measures proposed under the Nationality and Borders Bill, which include:
Asylum seekers deemed to have arrived in the UK illegally will no longer have the same entitlements as those who arrive in the country via legal routes. Even if their claim is successful, they will be granted temporary refugee status and face the prospect of being indefinitely liable for removal.
Asylum seekers will be able to be removed from the UK while their asylum claim or appeal is pending, which opens the door to offshore asylum processing.
For those deemed to have arrived illegally, access to benefits and family reunion rights could be limited.
The appeals and judicial process will be changed to speed up the removal of those whose claims are refused.
The Home Secretary will be able to offer protection to vulnerable people in “immediate danger and at risk in their home country” in exceptional circumstances. It is thought this will be used to help a small number of people.
The system will be made “much harder for people to be granted refugee status based on unsubstantiated claims” and will include “rigorous age assessments” to stop adults pretending to be children. The government is considering the use of bone scanners to determine age.
Life sentences will be brought in as a maximum penalty for people-smugglers.
Foreign criminals who breach deportation orders and return to the UK could be jailed for up to five years instead of the current six months.
A new one-stop legal process is proposed so that asylum, human rights claims and any other protection matters are made and considered together before appeal hearings.
However, UK immigration campaigners have blasted the new bill, describing it as the ‘anti-refugee bill’ and arguing that it will penalise the people who need Britain’s help the most.
A recent analysis of Home Office data, conducted by the Refugee Council, suggested that 9,000 people who would be accepted as refugees under current rules – meaning those confirmed to have fled war or persecution following official checks – may no longer be given safety in the UK due to their means of arrival under the changes.
Enver Solomon, the chief executive of the Refugee Council said: “For decades, people have taken extraordinary measures to flee oppression, but have gone on to become law-abiding citizens playing by the rules and paying their taxes as proud Britons.”
The refugee and migrants rights programme director at Amnesty International UK, Steve Valdez-Symonds, branded the bill ‘legislative vandalism’ and claimed that it could ‘fatally undermine the right to asylum’ and accused Patel of a ‘shameful dereliction of duty’.
He said: “This reckless and deeply unjust bill is set to bring shame on Britain’s international reputation.”
Dripping with cruelty
The chief executive of Freedom from Torture, Sonya Sceats described the plans as ‘dripping with cruelty’ and an ‘affront to the caring people in this country who want a kinder, fairer approach to refugees’.
Meanwhile, more than 250 organisations - including the Refugee Council, the British Red Cross, Freedom from Torture, Refugee Action and Asylum Matters – have joined forces to form the coalition Together with Refugees, which is urging the UK government to establish a more effective, fair and humane approach to asylum in the UK.
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