50.50: Opinion

Why we need to join forces to oppose the Nationality and Borders Bill

The UK government’s proposal to strengthen its citizenship-stripping powers horrifies me. It’s time to fight back

Samantha Asumadu
17 December 2021, 12.00am
The proposed Nationality and Borders Bill will reinforce a two-tier system of citizenship in Britain
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Lucy North / Alamy Stock Photo

On 5 December I read an article in the New Statesman that said six million people could be eligible to have their British citizenship removed without warning under the government’s forthcoming Nationality and Borders Bill. I was horrified as the implications dawned on me.

According to the article, two in five people in England and Wales from an ethnic minority background would be potential targets, under a rule change quietly added to the bill last month. The power to strip citizenship from dual citizens and people born overseas if the home secretary considers them a threat “to the vital interests of the United Kingdom” already exists – but this new law will allow the government to do it without telling them first.

The numbers in the article sounded damning at every turn. This would mean half of British Asians and 39% of Black Britons could potentially be deprived of their citizenship rights without warning, perhaps leading to them being deported. Did that include me, I wondered. Does that include my brothers and sisters? Why hadn’t I heard about the Nationality and Borders Bill until now? I had questions.

I stewed on this. I sent screenshots to my family and friends, asking: “What the hell is going on in this isolated little island?” At the same time, I'm not one to sit and stew for too long. I founded Media Diversified in 2013 to foreground voices of colour in the UK and beyond. We stopped publishing in 2019 – but now I decided to revive the platform. I felt I would be abdicating my duty as a human being on this planet not to.

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Half of British Asians and 39% of Black Britons could potentially be deprived of their citizenship rights without warning

It’s exactly why I founded Media Diversified: to address this sort of situation, when the mainstream press are absent or negligent. We’ve had hundreds of editors, writers and columnists who, together with me, built a platform that was hard to ignore. As Toni Morrison once said – the quote appears on our Twitter profile – “We don’t need any more writers as solitary heroes. We need a heroic writer’s movement: assertive, militant, pugnacious.”

That’s what we need right now. We need people to be informed about the heinous Nationality and Borders Bill – whose main aim is to introduce harsh reforms to the UK’s asylum system – and how it will affect your friends and family. Because it will. They must be informed, in order to fight it.

Stop the bill

Clause 9, the proposal to strip citizenship without warning, is a measure so egregious it's hard to imagine what kind of fevered mind it emerged from. It’s sad that it is being pushed through parliament by the home secretary, Priti Patel, another person racialised as ‘other’. Who would be just as threatened by the new law as I am – well, if she wasn’t a Tory minister.

Twitter is my playground. This is where we imparted information, took on the big beasts of journalism and found solidarity among our peers. So I posted a short thread of tweets about the bill. Less than two weeks later, we have helped a petition to remove clause 9 (started by other campaigners) that was languishing at 3,000 signatures to grow to more than 260,000 (at time of writing). Many other organisations are campaigning against the bill too.

As I told Al Jazeera last week: “The goal is to stop the Nationality and Borders Bill in its entirety. Collaboration among all groups is our only and best option. Muslims, Sikhs, Jews and more have come together in the last few days to oppose this bill. The opposition will only grow as it approaches its next reading in the House of Lords.”'

Most impressive to me is the sheer amount of resources that campaigners have created over the last few months. Bail for Immigration Detainees, for instance, has created a spectacular collection of information that, among many other things, provides a template for people to email their MP. It draws you in first with this text: “The Nationality & Borders Bill is an inhumane piece of legislation that will criminalise refugees, erode the meagre rights of those subject to immigration control & sow further division into UK society.”

No Borders Manchester also has numerous resources for resistance, while, leading the way on social media is the Sikh Council UK, who go in HARD.

On Sunday, I will be joining a protest outside Downing Street. This institutionally racist bill is unlikely to result in six million people being deported by Patel and her goons. But what it will do is reinforce a two-tier system of citizenship in Britain. A form of apartheid, in other words, a Windrush mark two. Six million people living in fear that a wrong move could rip them from their families, and from the only home that most of them have ever known. Unless we can rise together and stop them.

That’s why we reopened Media Diversified to oppose the bill. We’ll be here until at least 5 January, when the bill is expected to go to the Lords. Expect more takeovers of our Twitter account – like this one by Basit Mahmood, editor in chief of Left Foot Forward.

Just 0.4% of journalists are from Muslim backgrounds and 0.2% are Black

Mahmood asked why so many sections of the media don’t consider the bill worthy of attention. Could it be, he suggested, because just 0.4% of journalists are from Muslim backgrounds and 0.2% are Black? In an industry that is 94% white, most folk won’t have to worry about their citizenship being conditional simply because of their heritage.

Media Diversified came back to social media – and now to publishing – because we have a duty to inform, demystify and organise where needed. In retrospect, one of the last pieces we published in 2019 looks alarmingly prescient. Its headline? ‘The revoking of Shamima Begum’s citizenship sets a worrying precedent for the children of immigrants.’ Spooky.

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