“As a group of campaigners who have direct experience of the UK’s immigration and asylum system, we feel it’s important to share our reflections on the harm this bill [The Nationality and Borders Bill] will do to people arriving in the UK if it becomes law.”
By the members of the NRPF Action Group at Praxis – a charity for migrants and refugees.
No one is illegal and people seeking safety should not be criminalised for the way they enter a country. Seeking safety in another country when you’re in fear of your life is a human right, and it shouldn’t depend on how you enter that country.
Yet the Nationality and Borders Bill, now being debated in parliament, divides people seeking safety into two categories – in clear violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention: those who arrive in the UK via almost impossible to access “regular routes”, such as government-approved refugee resettlement schemes; and everyone else, who have no other option but to embark on perilous journeys, crossing deserts and seas in search of safety. As a group of campaigners who have direct experience of the UK’s immigration and asylum system, we feel it’s important to share our reflections on the harm this bill will do to people arriving in the UK if it becomes law.
The Bill doesn’t offer any more regular routes for people in other countries who are in fear of their lives; at the same time, it assigns second class status to everyone arriving via an “irregular route.”
Refugees arriving in this way will only have permission to stay in the UK for 2.5 years, before they have to apply again. They will have to wait for a decade before they can apply to stay in the UK permanently – compared to five years currently. As people who’ve been through this system, we can bear witness to the damaging effects it has. Having to regularly reapply for permission to stay makes life unstable and insecure – it’s hard to think about building a life when you don’t know what will happen a few months later. We’ve lived with the stress this brings – and the negative effects it has on our and our children’s mental health.
The bill will also deny these people access to any form of safety net, even when crisis hits. They will not be allowed to access government support such as homelessness assistance, child benefit or job seeker’s allowance. This seems particularly cruel, because people waiting for a decision on their asylum claim (which often takes months or even years) are already not allowed to work – and too many of them become destitute as a result. This will lock more people into long-term destitution, rather than helping them to integrate in the UK.
Already, more than one million people making their homes in the UK are denied access to a safety net, even when they’re in crisis, by government policy (officially known as No Recourse to Public Funds). As people who have experienced this ourselves, we know only too well the devastating consequences it can have.
Individuals and entire families are trapped in extreme poverty. Having no access to a safety net pushes people into homelessness and leaves children hungry. It hurts migrant communities, who are mostly communities of colour, the most, and hits single mothers, children of colour and people with disabilities the hardest. It also means that people who experience domestic abuse can’t access life-saving support.
Recent research has shown that, among people making their homes in the UK who have no access to a safety net, nearly 1 in 5 have been unable to feed themselves or their family. Do we really want to make the number of people facing hunger even higher? Yet the Nationality and Borders Bill could increase the number of people without access to a safety net because of their immigration status by more than 3,000 per year.
What needs to happen now
Access to a safety net should not be a privilege but a basic human right – everyone should be treated equally, no matter where we come from and how we arrive here.
Instead of expanding the number of people who are denied access to a safety net, we should abolish the harmful No Recourse to Public Funds policy altogether. The vast majority of us want to support our neighbours when they need a helping hand. The Lords now have the power to make it possible by challenging this cruel Bill and removing Clause 11.
People seeking asylum should be made to feel welcome and able to find safety in the UK, no matter how they manage to arrive in the country. We should offer sanctuary to the people that need it – everyone who is in need should have the necessary papers to go on with their lives.
To the people in need of protection, we say: Never give up, we stand together and together we will create a better society.
You can read more about the work of our group, and our full manifesto, here.
- This article was written by the members of the NRPF (No Recourse to Public Funds) Action Group at Praxis – a charity for migrants and refugees.
- Please ask your MP to take a stand against the no recourse to public funds condition, so everyone can live safely, with dignity.
- You can follow Praxis on Facebook and twitter, and find out how you can get involved at https://www.praxis.org.uk/