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Nationality and Borders Bill undermines the rights of refugees

27 January 2022

It would put those who have fled violence and persecution at high risk of destitution and suffering, says Brother Vaughan CFC


AS A caseworker at the migrant-rights charity Praxis, I assist and serve people who have made the UK their home. They are people just like you and me — young people, single men, families, single mothers, and children — people who, for whatever reason, have come to stay in the UK.

When they come to Praxis, they are often at a very low point. They could be escaping domestic violence or trafficking; they could be street homeless; or they might have just gained their leave to remain in the UK, and need help navigating the system to find work and rebuild their life.

Most people do not come to Praxis with just one issue: they might be facing homelessness while needing to renew their leave to remain and get access to education. When we assist them, the first thing that we often need do is to offer them something to eat and to help them to find somewhere to stay, before we start working on the more complicated issues that they might be facing. We do not always have resources to help everyone, which forces us to be selective about who we help and what we provide.

During the past few years, we have seen the level of need growing exponentially: the current immigration system has pushed thousands upon thousands of people into abject poverty, leaving them suffering unnecessarily.

Because of the fine print on their visa, people are routinely prevented from accessing public support when facing crisis — such as escaping domestic violence, losing a job, or dealing with a family member’s death; many people also have to spend thousands of pounds on Home Office fees every time they need to renew their leave to remain, which can be as frequent as every 30 months. Because of these measures, families are pushed to the extreme: they can’t feed their children, they can’t get shelter, they can’t afford warm clothes during the winter.

Not only does this have a long-lasting effect on their lives, and the lives of their children, it also creates pressure on already overstretched local authorities, the NHS, and on the charities, churches, and friends that are all too often left to pick up the pieces of a broken system seemingly designed to punish and degrade people.

TROUBLINGLY, the Nationality and Borders Bill, which is currently being debated in Parliament (News, 14 January), now threatens to apply these same measures to refugees as well. This would put people who have already experienced trauma routinely at high risk of destitution and suffering.

One of the ways in which this Bill undermines the rights of refugees is by dividing them into two categories: those who arrive in the UK via almost impossible-to-access “regular routes”, such as government-approved refugee resettlement schemes; and everyone else, who have no other options but to embark on perilous journeys, crossing deserts and seas in search of safety.

This second group will be given second-class status and fewer rights than other refugees, for no other reason than the way they arrived in the UK. According to proposals in the Bill, people in this group will be denied access to any form of public safety net. They might be given permission to stay for just 30 months, after which they will have to reapply for permission, and could be removed from the country, even if they had initially been granted leave. And they are likely to have to wait in this limbo state for ten years before being able to stay permanently. They may also be prevented from reuniting with their families.

What this Bill does is to punish people for having lost everything, for having been forced to flee their homes to escape violence and persecution. Not only is it immoral, it is against Christian precepts of hospitality — don’t forget, Jesus was a refugee.

We do not have to speculate on the likely effects these measures will have, because at Praxis, my colleagues and I see them every day. For almost ten years, these same measures have been applied to thousands of other people making their homes in the UK.

If people who have just been granted refugee status will not gain access to public support — such as child benefit, homelessness assistance, and Jobseeker’s Allowance — it will be almost impossible for them to rebuild their lives, gain new skills, learn English, or integrate in a meaningful way. They will be pushed to work in insecure, minimum-wage jobs — or, worse, become easy prey for people who might see them as vulnerable and will seek to exploit them. Children, too, will be punished for the situation that their parents have found themselves in, because, when a person is denied access to public support, their children often cannot access public support either.

IF WE want refugees to integrate and contribute to society, they need to have stability, access to a safety net, education, and to be able to bring up their children, just like everyone else.

Instead, the measures contained in the Nationality and Borders Bill will push them into bad physical and mental health, homelessness, and poverty.

Those who are concerned about what the Nationality and Borders Bill will do to people seeking safety in this country might want to consider expressing their concerns by writing to a member of the House of Lords, as peers are scrutinising the Bill in committee stage today.

Brother Vaughan CFC is an Anglican Franciscan Brother living and working in the east end of London. He belongs to the Community of Francis and Clare, a dispersed community of men and women, with members in the United States, Europe, Canada, and Mexico.

More information about how the Bill will affect refugees can be found in briefings here and here. Those who would like to learn more about the work of Praxis can sign up to its mailing list.


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