Written evidence from Evangelical Alliance (NBB0028)
The Evangelical Alliance UK is the largest and oldest body representing the UK’s two million evangelical Christians. Established in 1846, today we work across a diverse constituency of over 18,000 individual members, as well as 3,000 churches and 500 organisations. The Evangelical Alliance is the founding member of the World Evangelical Alliance, which unites evangelical alliances based in different countries around the world, representing anywhere from 300 million to a billion evangelical Christians. This global reach reflects the influence of evangelical faith, which can also be seen in the huge social and ethnic diversity in British evangelical churches.
As evangelicals, it is our belief that all humans are given life by God and that this life should be protected at all costs. We believe the right to life, as set out in the European Convention of Human Rights, reflects and protects the dignity of human life. We therefore believe that the UK Government’s immigration policies should protect the lives of all people who enter the country and its surroundings. We believe that the Nationality and Borders Bill, as it currently stands, falls short in doing so.
We recognise that Article 31 of the UN Refugee Convention states that those entering a territory without authorization should present themselves without delay. Therefore, the requirement within the Nationality and Borders Bill for asylum seekers to present themselves quickly is reasonable. However, penalisation for the submission of late evidence, as outlined in Clause 23 to the bill which requires late evidence to be given minimal weight, diminishes the rights of asylum seekers. The clause does not account for the numerous legitimate reasons that there may be a delay in a person submitting evidence. The impact could be significantly detrimental to victims of slavery or human trafficking.
The UK Government’s own statutory guidance on modern slavery states that trauma may affect victims’ early accounts, which “can result in delayed disclosure” and goes on to outline a number of reasons that people may be reluctant to self-identify as a victim. Yet, Clause 47 of the bill requires that the submission of late information is considered as damaging to the claimant’s credibility. We recognise that this clause has been put in place to prevent modern slavery matters being raised as a last attempt after an asylum claim has been refused. However, it risks compromising the human rights of genuine victims who are initially reluctant to present themselves as such.
The creation of a two-tier system creates distinctions between those who have arrived by legal means and those who arrived by illegal means, penalising people who arrive illegally. This is in conflict with Article 31 of the UN Refugee Convention, which requires that states do not impose penalties on refugees on account of their illegal entry or presence.
While people can use illegal means to enter the UK, there is no such thing as an illegal asylum seeker, anyone seeking asylum is legally allowed to be in the UK. From January to September 2020, 98% of the people who arrived in the UK by crossing the English Channel in small boats claimed asylum, thus were legally dwelling in the UK. However, by creating a two-tier system, the bill frames asylum-seekers who arrive through unauthorised means as wrong-doers. This inevitably leads to discrimination and neglects to take into account that many have risked their life out of desperation to be free from persecution.
According to the UK Government’s publication ‘New Plan for Immigration’, in the year ending September 2019, 62% of UK asylum claims were made by those entering ‘illegally’. 54% of people who applied for asylum between 2016 and 2018 were granted protection by May 2020. Assuming that these numbers were similar in 2019, it can be concluded that a significant number of people travelling to the UK through what the government deems ‘illegal’ means, do in fact meet the criteria to be considered a refugee. Therefore, creating a two-tier system will negatively impact the asylum case of people who are legitimately in need of refuge.
It is important to note that people may not apply for formal routes to the UK as they are being persecuted by their government. For example, persecuted Christians in countries where there is an oppressive Muslim government are unlikely to appeal through formal routes because that would put them in danger. The Government should be acutely aware of the complex situations people are in that prevent them from utilising formal routes and instead lead them to use informal methods to seek asylum.
We recognise that the intention behind the two-tier system is to prevent people from using unsafe means to travel to the UK. However, there is no evidence to suggest that this approach works. Instead, evidence shows that people do not know the migration policies of the country that they are fleeing to. A study conducted in 2015 with 250 Syrians, Eritreans and Nigerians who had crossed the Mediterranean found that the refugees and other migrants arriving in Europe had a limited knowledge of migration policy. Instead, they would base their decision on where to go on their perception of policies (often relating to the economy, welfare, or family reunification), which was often built on what others had said about their experiences of living in the UK. These perceptions were often an inaccurate representation of policy. Therefore, it is unlikely that a two-tier system will act as a prevention mechanism and is instead likely to disadvantage those who arrive by unauthorised means.
A blanket order for all asylum seekers who have come to the UK, having previously been in/passed through a “safe country”, does not take into account the many legitimate reasons that a person is opting to seek asylum in the UK.
One reason that people opt to travel to the UK having already reached a safe country is because they have family here. In the earlier mentioned study conducted with 250 asylum seekers in 2015, it was found that family reunification was the most significant motivating factor for Syrian respondents seeking refuge in specific countries. Bearing in mind that the principle of unity of the family is written into the Refugee Convention, this should be taken into account when considering whether to return someone to another country.
We are also concerned with the possibility of a person being sent to a “safe country” where they would not have the same freedoms to practice their religion and other beliefs. In particular, asylum seekers who have fled their home country on the basis of persecution for their faith might find it difficult to settle in a country where they will still face discrimination or will be restricted in practicing their faith.
Therefore, we believe the decision making on whether to send someone back to a country that they have previously been in, or send them to a different safe county, cannot be made without consideration of each individual case.
The journey made by many to the UK includes dangerous trips in vessels that are not safe for long journeys over dangerous seas. The reports in October 2020 of five migrants (three of which were children) dying while crossing the English Channel from France to the UK, serves as a reminder of just how dangerous the crossing can be. For the UK Government to turn boats around before they reach the UK, forcing those on board to spend longer out at sea, increases the danger faced by those risking their lives to flee persecution.
Felipe González Morales, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants described the pushback of people at sea as a “a violation of the prohibition of collective expulsion” and described it as “heighten[ing] the risk of further human rights violations, in particular refoulement” . Article 3 of the Human Rights Act requires all people to be free from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment. By denying people at sea the safety of reaching land quickly, the UK government will be putting lives at risk, compromising the right to life of those in the vessels and treating them in an inhumane way. This was exemplified by the Maltese Government turning boats around during the ‘Easter Monday pushback’ in April 2020 - 5 people had died by the time the boat reached Libya, and a further 7 people went missing and were never found.
We believe that in allowing for an asylum seeker to be moved to safe third country while their claim is pending, Clause 26 will lead to a feeling of unsettledness for those who are already in turmoil. In many cases, asylum seekers have experienced trauma; a UK based study found that that refugees and asylum seekers experience high rates of mental illness, particularly PTSD and depression. We believe that the Nationality and Borders Bill needs to acknowledge the trauma that asylum seekers have experienced and limit further harm through unnecessary moves.
We recognise the good intentions of the government in seeking to identify and support victims of slavery or human trafficking as quickly as possible after they enter the country. However, we do not believe that this is what is achieved through this bill. Instead, there is a risk that this bill will prevent victims of modern slavery from presenting themselves due to fear that late information will negatively impact their credibility. Please refer to section 2 of this submission.
An additional human rights concern that we have relates to accommodation provisions for asylum seekers. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights determine adequate housing to be a human right. Yet Clause 11 of the Nationality and Borders Bill allows the Secretary of State to extend the period of time that an asylum seeker can stay in a “basic” accommodation centre to over 6 months, forcing asylum seekers to live in potentially subpar accommodation for a lengthy amount of time. If the UK Government is to fulfil its human rights responsibilities, better accommodation must be provided for asylum seekers.
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