Thursday, December 09, 2021

Things that matter

Perhaps you are hoping I'll be writing a cheery/funny/seasonal post today. I'm sorry. I have serious things on my mind.

Yes, I care about the parties at Number 10 breaking Covid lockdown rules, and the lies about them. But it is only to be expected, as Boris Johnson cares for no-one and nothing but himself: he only has to open his mouth for a lie to come out, and his toadies back him up.

What I am even more upset about this morning is that yesterday Parliament passed the third reading of the Nationality and Borders Bill, which does many evil things, including cracking down on the right to protest. 

But it also punishes refugees and asylum seekers. This Bill has been extensively criticised by virtually all those who are authoritative on asylum matters – the UN High Commission for Refugees, the Refugee Council, some 450 immigration scholars at British universities and various organisations representing refugee women. 

*see below

This Bill will particularly harm women seeking asylum because of their specific vulnerabilities, and their particular experiences of violence.

One huge shortcoming of the Bill is that it requires judges to give ‘minimal weight’ to evidence produced later in an asylum seeker’s time in the UK ‘unless there is good reason’. But there are many reasons why women who are fleeing sexual or gender-based violence will not share relevant evidence at the initial stage. These include trauma, guilt, shame and fear of family members, or of traffickers.  

I know how vulnerable refugee women are, how traumatised they are, and how hard it is to have to put their case with supporting evidence, because revisiting their experiences to give this evidence is deeply upsetting. I also know that many staff in the Home Office are not sympathetic to these difficulties, and many refugee women don't feel able to talk about their experiences at the first interview. Many women need mental health support and legal advice before they can open up about their suffering. 

Another problem with the Bill is that it introduces a new two-tier system under which those who come by irregular routes could be prosecuted and imprisoned for up to four years. Such detention or imprisonment would be traumatic for refugee women.  The Home Office would also seek to remove the woman, regardless of her needs, to a country it considers safe. Women for Refugee Women comments:

‘Contrary to Home Office claims, women are often compelled to take irregular routes to reach safety. Even if new safe routes were created by the government, they would simply not be available to all those in need of protection. Many women would not be able to safely reach an embassy to apply for a humanitarian visa or cross a border to access a resettlement programme, if those routes did indeed exist. Others would only be able to disclose their stories once they reach a country they consider safe.

The Government has ignored Article 31 of the UN Refugee Convention which specifically requires contracting countries not to penalise people for ‘illegal entry’.

The Bill makes asylum seekers’ claims ‘inadmissible’ if they could have applied for asylum in the first safe country they entered. But the Refugee Convention does not state that asylum seekers must claim asylum in the first safe country they come to. 

Lastly, the Bill enables the Home Office to remove asylum seekers while their claim or appeal is proceeding. 

This is unjust.

As for 'off-shore processing' this would pose a serious risk to women and children of sexual abuse and re-traumatisation.’  Holding women in isolated centres where they cannot access community support is particularly unfortunate for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence including rape, forced prostitution, female genital mutilation and domestic abuse. Some may have been victims of trafficking or compelled to work in garment factories.  It will force them to relive traumatic memories of confinement and abuse.

Lastly, the Bill re-interprets the UN Refugee Convention, which is, in effect, the UK Parliament attempting to change international law. This is hugely  damaging to the international system of protection and to the UK’s international standing.

The only small strand of hope is that the House of Lords might make some changes when the Bill is passed back to them. Some members of our local refugee support network have each written to ten Conservative members of the House of Lords about the Bill and asking them to speak out. I did it too. And you could, if you're so minded.

What is morally wrong, cannot be politically right.  

John Bright (Victorian MP)

*We have hosted refugees and asylum seekers in Bakewell at our hospitality days and I wish I could post a photo of these happy times on here, but we need to protect the privacy of survivors of human trafficking, so I had to use the photo above that I found online. 


di mcdougall said...

I came across this today in a book by Becky Chambers I was reading: People can do terrible things when they feel powerful and safe. It is a simple statement but profound . People stop being able to identify with those who are scared , homeless, always in peril . The powerful think they are somehow better than those who have to flee.

Sue Hepworth said...

That’s very interesting, Marmee. Thank you. It is certainly what seems to have happened to our government. I hope yours is better.

marmee said...

Oh they are only better in patches ! Somehow when people are wealthy and powerful they slip so easily into thinking that that those who aren't are unworthy of consideration.