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UK Nationality and Borders Bill risks ‘sending people to their deaths’

MPs warn against disproportionate and ‘devastating consequences’ for LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers

Lou Ferreira 2022.jpg
Lou Ferreira
4 February 2022, 3.47pm
‘Little Amal’, the giant puppet of a Syrian refugee girl, outside Parliament, 7 December 2021
Imageplotter / Alamy Stock Photo

The UK’s Nationality and Borders Bill will have “a deliberate, devastating impact on the rights of refugees, migrants and people of colour”, MPs were warned this week.

Labour’s Nadia Whittome, who made the claim, argued that the bill’s severity “cannot be overstated”, adding that it risks “sending people to their deaths”.

The bill, which is being debated in the House of Lords, proposes changes to the UK asylum system that will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable LGBTQ+ asylum seekers and refugees.

One of these measures is the increased burden of proof for asylum application. Under current UK law, people seeking asylum must provide evidence to Home Office officials of a characteristic for which they might face persecution in their country of origin. For LGBTQ+ people fleeing homophobic or transphobic violence, this means ‘proving’ their sexuality or gender identity.

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Speaking to MPs on Wednesday, Labour’s Olivia Blake explained how LGBTQ+ asylum seekers already face a tremendous burden of proof, reflective of a “culture of disbelief” and a “wider hostile environment” for refugees and asylum seekers in the UK.

Under the proposed new measures brought by the government, evidence produced after a fixed date can also be given minimal weight, Blake added. She said this will have a “devastating impact” on the most vulnerable LGBTQ+ people – who may already find it difficult to collect evidence.

Blake also fears for LGBTQ+ people living in countries where being gay is punishable by imprisonment or death, adding: “What will you say when you sit down with the Home officials and they ask you to produce […] the same evidence you’ve been trying to erase your whole life?”

This will have a ‘devastating impact’ on the most vulnerable LGBTQ+ people – who may already find it difficult to collect evidence

According to Labour MP Holly Lynch, there are numerous other reasons why LGBTQ+ asylum seekers may need additional time and support before disclosing evidence. She said the Home Office’s own statutory guidance around modern slavery recognises that victims’ early accounts may be impacted by trauma, which can result in the delayed disclosure of experiences and difficulty recalling facts. Lynch added that this acknowledgement must extend to asylum claims made on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Meanwhile, former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron called the bill a “peculiarly awful piece of legislation” that is making life “demonstrably harder for LGBTQ+ and other marginalised communities”.

Two-tier system

Another measure included in the bill will give differential treatment to asylum seekers based on their method of entry to the UK and the timing of their application. Those who arrive via a third country or who do not claim asylum immediately will be placed in the ‘Group 2’ refugee category and afforded “lesser, more temporary” rights, Blake explained.

Even if their claims are successful, refugees in this category might receive only temporary protection status. Instead of the five-year leave to remain typically granted following successful asylum claims, Group 2 refugees will have their cases reviewed regularly and face the ongoing possibility of removal.

LGBTQ+ people fleeing persecution may have no choice but to use irregular or informal migration routes and are more likely to be placed in the Group 2 category, Farron explained. Bangladesh, Cameroon and Uganda are among the most common countries of origin for people claiming asylum on the basis of sexuality or gender identity. However, because these countries are not classed as areas of conflict or instability, they are not included in the UK resettlement scheme. This means that asylum seekers from these countries can travel to the UK only by informal methods, placing them in Group 2.

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Guy Corbishley / Alamy Stock Photo

Even those LGBTQ+ people that do have access to the resettlement scheme may find themselves in the ‘second-tier’ category. They might remain at risk of homophobic violence and persecution in neighbouring countries – even though these states may be safe for other refugees fleeing conflict – and forced to turn to informal routes to the UK.

LGBTQ+ refugees granted temporary protection status may also be reluctant to disclose their sexual and gender identities to UK authorities for fear of persecution if they are returned to their country of origin. As Blake argued: “Why would you disclose your sexuality and gender ID if you knew you could be deported?”

Whittome added that this new temporary status may prevent trans refugees from transitioning, changing their name or gender expression, or undergoing medical treatment while in the UK – with “devastating consequences” for their mental health and well-being.

‘Illegal’ and ‘immoral’

MPs participating in the debate also criticised the bill for numerous other measures, including the use of offshore processing centres, where LGBTQ+ asylum seekers face a higher risk of violence and abuse; and a clause that would give authorities the power to strip people of their UK citizenship without prior notification.

The proposed legislation also makes it a criminal offence to arrive in the UK without permission – increasing the maximum sentence for ‘unlawful’ entry from six months to four years – and includes plans to expand the use of detention during the claims process.

The SNP’s Stuart McDonald said the bill was “illegal” and “immoral”. Not only does it make things worse for asylum seekers “at every single stage” of the asylum process, he said, but it also fails to address existing problems. He also highlighted the lack of safe migration routes to the UK, the levels of poverty due to “appalling levels of support”, and the government’s excessive use of detention.

“At heart, it’s a bill about deliberately, intentionally making life miserable, making life worse [for asylum seekers] – to try and dis-incentivise other people from coming here to seek refuge,” he said.

The bill has also been criticised by the United Nations, which said the asylum model being proposed would “penalise most refugees seeking asylum in the country” and therefore “undermines established international refugee protection rules and practices”.

Protesters outside Parliament in January, calling for the Nationality and Borders Bill to be scrapped
Protesters outside Parliament in January, calling for the Nationality and Borders Bill to be scrapped
Vuk Valcic / Alamy Stock Photo

“When we draft and debate legislation like this, we write the future stories of countless thousands fleeing the worst of circumstances,” Blake told MPs gathered in Westminster Hall earlier this week.

“As legislators, you and I can choose. We can either allow these horrific experiences to follow them here, inscribing yet another chapter of trauma into the lives of people who have already suffered enough – or we can turn the page and write something new.”

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