By Saffron Dale
Illegal immigration. What do we think when we hear these words? Most likely, our heads trek back to the 2015/16 migration crisis. The words “illegal immigration” were plastered everywhere, whether they were in bold print in the Daily Mail or plastered over phone screens in pixelated form as a Facebook status. The words don’t sit well with us.
This also explains the aversion to the passing of the Nationality and Borders Bill through Parliament. The fact that the Bill promises, as one of its central aims, to remove illegal immigrants from the UK, leaves us with an unpleasant taste in our mouths. The remnants of nationalist propaganda and the scapegoating of migrants obscure our judgement and our call to objectivity in our outlook on the Bill’s passing.
Although we must always remain wary of the mistakes committed by tabloids and British citizens in slandering innocent and destitute migrants, we need to admit that our asylum system is a broken one. UK asylum applications have increased to 36,000, the highest number recorded since the migration crisis of 2015/16. On average, decisions about these applications take just over 12 months to be approved or disapproved.
Not only does the current system take up precious time, but it also costs taxpayers £1 billion a year to run. In addition, it is run in such a way that challenges to decisions are easily made. Therefore, the removal of those who do not have a legitimate claim to asylum has been steadily declining over the past several years. As a result, there are currently over 10,000 Foreign National Offenders circulating the streets, posing a potential risk to the public. At this point, it appears reform is not only logical but necessary.
Many have criticised the Bill for penalising innocent and destitute refugees. They also argue that it breaks the UN’s Refugee Convention of 1951, positing the right of an individual to seek asylum from persecution in other countries. However, both criticisms are ill-founded and are obscured by the idea that the government is trying to slander innocent migrants.
On the contrary, the government is doing the complete opposite through the introduction of the Nationality and Borders Bill. One of its aims is to spend more time and resources on asylum seekers in genuine need of protection. Thus, there is no breach of the Refugee Convention.
Furthermore, it is not individual asylum seekers that the Bill is looking to penalise. Instead, trafficking networks and crime gangs organising and selling refugees into modern slavery will face the ultimate consequences. The Bill intends to break the business models of trafficking by raising the length of imprisonment of those involved in the facilitation of illegal immigration to a life sentence. As a result, it will prevent and deter unsafe travel via dinghies or overpacked lorries and the trafficking of asylum seekers into modern slavery.
The final verdict: Although we all carry the burden of guilt at our countries scapegoating of migrants during the crisis of 2015/16, we must not let this guilt fuel a broken system for fear of repeating mistakes. Clearly, the system is in need of reform, even if that reform involves firmer policy.
Overall, the Nationality and Borders Bill, although firm at face value, will be fairest for those in need of genuine asylum and aims to, in fact, prevent the grievous treatment of migrants from traffickers and criminal gangs. The Bill is, therefore, a beacon of hope, not only for a broken system but for migrants whose lives have genuinely been shrouded by fear and hopelessness.
Image: Home Office via Wikimedia Commons