My response to constituents contacting me about the Nationality and Border Bill:
I was deeply saddened and horrified to learn that so many people died trying to cross the Channel last week. This tragedy must be a moment for change; having properly managed safe and legal routes is essential in tackling people-smugglers. On this, amongst many other things, the Home Secretary is failing.
The UK has a proud history of helping people fleeing violence and persecution. As people are driven from their homes in the most desperate circumstances, the UK must always stand with people seeking safety. Unfortunately, I believe the Government’s approach to this long-standing obligation has been lacking in competence and compassion.
Earlier this year, the Government announced several proposed changes to the UK’s asylum system including differentiated treatment based on how an asylum seeker arrives in the UK; harsher sentences; and unconscionable plans to hold asylum seekers in offshore hubs. The Nationality and Borders Bill seeks to implement these proposals and rest assured I will be voting against it. Labour tabled a Reasoned Amendment to set out objections to the Bill at its Second Reading in July. Unfortunately, it was voted down by a majority of Conservative MPs.
As the UN has warned, I believe the Bill and the Government’s proposals are an open breach of the 1951 Refugee Convention. While I agree that we need to address the increasing numbers of people crossing the English Channel in small boats, I fear the reality of the Government’s proposals is that they will reduce support for victims of human trafficking and make the dangerous situation in the Channel even worse.
I am also concerned that over the last several years the Government has overseen a breakdown in the asylum system, with application processing times becoming appallingly slow. The share of asylum applications that received an initial decision within six months fell from 87% in 2014 to just 20% in 2019. I believe the Government should therefore commit to introducing legal targets for processing asylum claims so that they are dealt with promptly and jointly work with other countries to tackle human trafficking.
We also know that a lack of safe and legal routes leads to more people risking their lives by making dangerous journeys. Yet, despite noting the importance of safe routes, the Government shamefully closed the Dubs scheme after accepting just 480 unaccompanied children rather than the 3,000 expected. The Government should therefore commit to opening new safe and legal routes for those seeking refuge.
More generally, we know that one of the key drivers of people fleeing their homes to seek sanctuary elsewhere is the impact of poverty, wars, and persecution. I think it is therefore deeply regrettable that the Government decided to abolish the Department for International Development last year and to reduce the UK’s funding for overseas aid.
Throughout the passage of the Bill Labour will be calling for meaningful action to support people, improve the chaotic and inhumane asylum system and bring criminal gangs to justice, measures would include:
· Binding targets to process cases more quickly, so people in need of help are not left in limbo.
· Push for action on international deals, to stop gangs in France profiting from people’s desperation.
· Fight for improved support for Victims of Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking and tougher sentences for perpetrators
· Re-establish the UK’s commitment to 0.7% International Aid commitment to help tackle the forces driving people from their homes in the first place.
· Action to establish safe and legal routes, such as re-establishing the Alf Dubs scheme, to help unaccompanied children escape war zones.
As the Nationality and Borders Bill continues to be considered in Parliament, I will be calling for meaningful action to tackle delays in the asylum system, the re-establishment of safe and legal routes to help unaccompanied children, and joint working with other countries to tackle human trafficking.