The Refugee Ban Bill, more officially known as the Illegal Migration Bill, has now been passed into law. This is a dark moment for the UK and one that will have catastrophic consequences on people seeking sanctuary.
As the UN has said, this law “extinguishes access to asylum” in the UK for anyone arriving by a route the government deems “irregular”. It was created with the aim of stopping people from crossing the Channel in small boats and sets out a plan that will mean that anyone who arrives to the UK via these routes without proper authorisation will not be able to claim asylum.
But right now, unless you’re Ukrainian or from Hong Kong, there are almost no authorised routes to the safety in the UK. That means the vast majority of people trying to reach safety, family and the chance to rebuild will be criminalised.
Be it the translator who worked for the British military and trying to flee the Taliban, the young woman attacked for defending her rights in Iran, the unaccompanied child from Syria trying to reach family, or the gay man trying to escape persecution in Sudan – under this law, people who come to the UK hoping to find sanctuary will be punished and prevented from exercising their fundamental right to seek protection.
The overwhelming majority of people who cross the Channel are refugees. Three quarters of asylum claims assessed in the last year were found to be valid. And for people from countries that accounted for half of all those who came across the Channel last year – Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Eritrea and Sudan – the asylum grant rate is at least 80%.
The details of someone’s case or their familial connections to the UK will be deemed irrelevant – their case will never be heard. Instead people could be detained indefinitely and then removed either to their own country, or if that’s not possible, another country. This location is yet to be decided as the government’s deal with Rwanda was recently deemed unlawful. In reality, this will likely lead to a terrifyingly sharp increase in indefinite detention.
That’s our government sending people who have fled war and persecution to prison – with no release date. Now contrast that with how the government chose to welcome Ukrainian people fleeing the devastation in their homeland.
This law will inject a poison into the heart of our society. It is a blueprint for the mass detention of people, including children and pregnant women, who have done nothing more than ask for our help. In doing so, it wastes billions of taxpayers’ money on unnecessary cruelty.
There is another choice. This government could create safe routes for people seeking safety, rather than shutting them down. It could speed up the time it takes to hear asylum claims, so people get a quick decision rather than languishing in limbo for years. It could allow people seeking safety to work. It is not too late to create a system that is compassionate, fair and effective.
Now more than ever before we cannot let this senseless cruelty become normalised. We must stand up for compassion. This is crushing, but we cannot be crushed by it. Now is the time to roll up our sleeves. Do the work. Give the time. Donate the money. Reach out to one another. And continue to keep building sanctuary within our communities.
We must never forget the people have power. Change will come. Love will win.
Here are three other things you can do to put your compassion into action today:
1) Join your local City of Sanctuary group.
2) Donate to help us continue to build welcome across mainstream society through our work with schools, universities, councils and more.
3) Speak up for refugee rights. The majority of us believe that people seeking sanctuary deserve compassion, but if we do not make ourselves heard, our politicians will think that their hostility is in our name.