Written evidence from Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit (NBB0064)
GMIAU is a voluntary organisation with thirty years’ experience of supporting people across the North West who are subjected to immigration control. We offer free legal immigration advice, representation and support services to people seeking asylum, refugees, children and vulnerable adults. We are responding to this call for evidence because we believe that the Nationality and Borders Bill will cause direct harm to people and communities in the North West by increasing the number of people in our communities with insecure immigration status, removing people’s access to public funds and preventing families from being together. It will put more pressure on local authority services and ramp up the hostile environment.
We support measures to counter historic anomalies in nationality law and measures to learn from and prevent future injustices. However, we are concerned that at present, the UK does not comply with all its international legal obligations relating to preventing and reducing childhood statelessness, the child’s right to a nationality, and the duty to consider children’s best interests.
· The UK’s extraordinarily high fees for British citizenship applications by children create a significant barrier for many children who are eligible for British citizenship including children born stateless in the UK;
· The UK Government has a duty to ensure that all children born stateless in the UK acquire a nationality and should assist children born stateless in the UK (and especially those who are in the care of local authorities) to apply for nationality, but too often this does not happen as part of care planning for any child (the story of Darren and Darrell Roberts is instructive);
· Children’s best interests should be a primary consideration in decisions about their immigration status and nationality, but often this does not occur.
The Home Office has provided no evidence to support its assertion that a significant number of parents are ‘abusing’ the statelessness provision or intentionally not registering their children as nationals of another country. There could be many and varied reasons for parents not registering their child as a national of their country of nationality, many of which are beyond their control (for example, because they did not know registration was required, because they did not have all the documents required for registration, because the child did not meet all the requirements for registration, or because they feared any contact with the government of their country of nationality due to past persecution). It is of course possible that some parents decide not to register their child with their country of nationality for a variety of reasons, including a consideration of their child’s best interests. In all cases, such actions on the part of parents do not negate the child’s right to a nationality and the UK Government’s duty to consider their best interests and ensure they acquire a nationality.
We recommend the views of the European Network on Statelessness for a technical analysis of the proposals.
No, the proposals do not provide adequate human rights protection with regard to changes to the application and appeals process. The government expects every vulnerable, terrified person who arrives after an arduous journey to know how the UK asylum rules work and to be able to make a claim, in full, straight away – or be penalised. Our experience in the North West tells us that this is not reflective of reality for people who have faced trauma, some of whom don’t even know they can claim asylum.
The Bill intends to place presumptions on decision makers that makes it harder for them to allow late evidence, and also intends to create artificial deadlines that will encourage rushed claims. It also proposes a change to the standard of proof for past events to the balance of probabilities. This requires a higher standard of proof than currently required, about things people may not be able to evidence given they are fleeing persecution. This is not justified and will lead to confusion for decision makers and judges, and a likelihood that the higher standard will also be applied to the test of future fear, even though it should not.
Overall things measure increase the risk that the UK will refuse asylum to people who need it. At a time when we know how many are urgently seeking safety, this will lead to human rights abuses for those people.
No, it does not. We stand alongside the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in condemning this proposal which would affect the majority of people claiming asylum in the UK. Many people we support have had to travel by foot over mountains and through Europe in the backs of lorries to escape conflict and persecution. The scenes at Kabul airport and at the Afghan borders this summer make it abundantly clear that people in desperate situations do not have the luxury of waiting for the UK government to set up a resettlement programme.
The Bill suggests that the following restrictions will be placed on “group 2” refugees in comparison to “group 1” refugees and refugees who have arrived through resettlement: a no recourse to public funds condition on their leave to remain; a shorter length of leave, therefore needing to be renewed sooner; longer routes to settlement; and restricted rights to refugee family reunion.
These measures will lead to destitution, isolation, insecurity and mental ill health for people in the second category. Keeping people in an extended limbo, needing to renew their leave every few years, is cruel and allows them no feeling of security. The suggested restriction on the (already limited) right to reunite with family means people will be unable to build the safe and happy family lives they deserve. While repeating rhetoric about “safe legal routes” the government is further restricting one of the only existing ones. From our experience in recent months receiving many calls from people in communities in the North West who are desperate to reunite with family in Afghanistan who are at renewed risk, it’s clear that expanding the refugee family reunion rules should be a priority.
These policies directly contradict the government’s recent Afghanistan resettlement and immigration policy statement. Recently evacuated Afghan refugees and arrivals under the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme will get automatic indefinite leave to remain, including access to public funds and the possibility of reuniting with family. The government does understand that this is what people need to feel safe. They acknowledge the stability and security people need to be able to build new lives. In the Bill they choose deliberately to deny this to other recognised refugees.
Yes. The intention to direct vessels out of UK territorial waters will directly put lives at risk and we strongly oppose this disregard for human life. Additionally, the proposals to return people to “safe” countries are unrealistic and the lack of agreements in place to do this will mean that ultimately more people are left in limbo while the government attempts to find somewhere to return them to.
The implications of this part of the Bill has been made clear by those pointing out the absurd fact that this would criminalise life-saving organisations such as the RNLI. Again there is a clear disregard for human life in the suggestion that we should leave people to die at sea rather than helping them to seek safety. These measures will put more money and power in the hands of people smugglers, as one smuggler says in this interview: “when security gets worse, smugglers just get cleverer and more powerful”.
To prevent people entering the country “illegally”, the solution is to open up lawful routes of entry.
No. Please see above answer.
No. As said above, in practice this will lead to longer waiting times in an asylum system already plagued by a huge backlog. For individuals, this means poverty, anxiety, isolation, often inadequate and unsafe housing for longer periods, leading to severe mental and physical health impact. Our 2021 report showed the impact of asylum delays on adults in the North West. The government’s focus should be, as a priority, resolving the claims in the backlog with grants of asylum – instead they are proposing the opposite.
The proposal to process asylum claims outside of the UK amounts to housing asylum seekers in detention camps. This is inhumane and dangerous, as well as unrealistic, and breaches the right to a safe and secure place to stay while waiting for an asylum decision. Even within the UK the government has failed to keep people safe in asylum accommodation and we stand against their attempts to make the waiting process yet more brutal.
Clauses 47-50 of the Bill threaten to make life harder for people who are victims of trafficking. It will allow credibility to be damaged due to late compliance; alters thresholds making it less likely potential victims of trafficking will get assistance and support; reduces the recovery and reflection period; and threatens to blame and punish victims of trafficking for crimes they were forced to commit. The suggested procedural requirements are unrealistic for people to comply with in the real world, especially people who have been through the trauma of modern slavery. This will ultimately lead to more claims being refused, more extended appeal and litigation processes for people have already been retraumatised by having to recount and prove their experiences.
Please see the work of ECPAT for more detail.
Specifically in response to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, we have grave concerns about the impact of the Bill on children. The provisions on age assessment are of particular concern. Increasingly, we are seeing alarming numbers of children dispersed into adult asylum accommodation in the North West because no meaningful attempt was made to establish their age when they entered the UK. The new Bill offers no solution. Instead it extends the powers of the Home Secretary to make provisions for changing the age assessment process in future, with no specific detail. One of the only examples mentioned is the possible use of “scientific” age assessments – a wrongheaded idea that has been attempted and in the past and fallen down because there is no such thing as a scientific age assessment. The government should provide more clarity on this clause of the Bill, keeping children’s rights at the forefront, and limit the currently indefinite power it allows the Home Secretary.
We have also been informed that children are not exempt from the proposed differentiation rules. We do not think that anyone should be subjected to the proposed two-tier system but particularly in the case of children, there must be more safeguards in place to protect their rights. This relates both to unaccompanied children and children in families who will fall foul of the new inadmissibility and differentiation rules.
Finally, we’ve reported on the impact of asylum delays on unaccompanied asylum seeking children in our region. The Bill’s proposed new measures do not address the major issue of children waiting for months and even years to know if they can build a life in the UK. We found that children were emotionally and physically falling apart as a result of being left in limbo. No child should be put through this, but what the government is proposing will lead to more insecurity and longer waits for some children due to their families being threatened with removal or having to wait longer for settlement.
For more detail please see the Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium briefing on the age assessment proposals in the New Plan for Immigration here.