Last week in Parliament, the Nationality and Borders Bill passed through the House of Commons. The Anti-Refugee Bill is a cruel and punitive set of laws that breaches international law, means that people can be stripped of citizenship without being informed, that people seeking asylum could be housed in offshore detention centres, and that organisations like the RNLI will be breaking the law by saving people at sea. It won’t reduce the need for people to travel to the UK in any way they can. And it doesn’t open up any safe routes to do so – the only way to prevent more dangerous Channel crossings. In our local communities in Greater Manchester, we know that it will increase poverty, destitution and exploitation. Here’s a recap of what happened this year.
Since these plans were announced in March 2021, the government have ignored many voices of opposition to the Bill.
In May, they ran a sham “consultation” on what they called their “New Plan for Immigration”. Many in the sector wrote thoughtful responses drawing on a wealth of experience. We were clear: these plans will make us all less safe. When the responses to the consultation were published three-quarters of respondents had disagreed with the plans. But the government was already ploughing ahead with their ill-thought-through ideas.
Over the summer, Parliament debated the Bill. Our Anti-Refugee Bill reading list shared the insights and analysis of our friends and colleagues. In August, a crisis highlighted the failings of the existing asylum system and the lack of solutions in the Bill. While ordinary people and local communities were coming together to show solidarity and welcome for refugees fleeing the changed regime in Afghanistan, the government continued pushing through a Bill that will criminalise someone fleeing the same regime if they travel to the UK themselves. Where Afghans in the UK were stuck waiting for their asylum claims, or were desperate to bring family members to safety, the government refused to make common-sense decisions to clear the asylum backlog or extend the refugee family reunion rules.
As well as joining up with national efforts to oppose the Bill and the dangers it poses through networks like the Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium, we’ve also focused on the need to do things differently in a local context. While this government too often peddles cruelty, fear and division, we’ve seen communities come together with compassion, solidarity and courage. The arrival in Greater Manchester in November of the puppet Little Amal was no exception. Local leaders like Andy Burnham met her and spoke of how proud our city-region is to support people seeking safety. Greater Manchester MPs spoke out against the Bill, calling for “ measures which protect and safeguard refugees and asylum seekers.” In Parliament again last week we were grateful to see local MPs like Afzal Khan speak strongly in favour of compassion, not cruelty.
As the Anti-Refugee Bill continues through the House of Lords there will be more opportunities to oppose and amend it.
We know that in 2022 we’ll continue fighting for people’s right to seek safety and live secure, happy lives. Recently we joined 55 Greater Manchester organisations to call on local leaders to stand with us in opposing the Bill. The joint statement said: “In Greater Manchester we look after our neighbours, we care about each other, and we support each other.” You can read it here.