Afzal speaking in Parliament in 2018
Afzal speaking in Parliament in 2018

Last night I spoke in the Second Reading debate on the Government’s proposed Nationality and Borders Bill.

The Government is shamelessly pushing through dangerous legislation that criminalises those seeking asylum in the UK and undermines our obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention.

I am absolutely opposed to this Bill and will continue to voice this opposition at all opportunities.

You can read my speech in full below:

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Let me start by saying I categorically reject this Bill and its proposals.

The UK has a long and proud history of welcoming those fleeing war and persecution and providing sanctuary to some of the most vulnerable people in the world. The Borders’ Bill would end this forever. This Bill would not just turn away people seeking safety in the UK, but it would also treat them as criminals.

The most damning assessment of this Bill has come from the UN Refugee Agency itself. The UNHCR warned the Government’s proposals could “cause great suffering” and undermine the 1951 Refugee Convention and international protection system. Given this, I hope the Government will now publish a detailed legal assessment on whether the Bill is compatible with the UK’s obligations under the 1951 Convention.

The Government is fond of talking about the broken asylum system. However, they routinely fail to acknowledge that it is them who have broken it with a decade of mismanagement.

Delays in the asylum system have reached disgraceful levels. A report from the Refugee Council earlier this month found the number of asylum seekers waiting more than a year for an initial decision has increased tenfold since the Conservatives came to power.

Then, even when a decision is made the number overturned on appeal has consistently risen over the past decade.

This Bill does nothing to tackle these issues. Instead, it will increase delays for vulnerable asylum seekers, add to the backlog of asylum claims, and does nothing to address the culture of disbelief in the Home Office that results in poor-quality decision-making.

The Government is also keen to emphasise its commitment to “safe and legal routes” for vulnerable adults and children to reach sanctuary in the UK. However, there are no such commitments in this Bill.

With the Dubs Scheme closed, having settled just a fraction of the children initially envisaged, and the Government’s new resettlement scheme having resettled just 25 refugees in its first month, we urgently need a renewed effort on refugee resettlement and family reunion.

Instead, the Government has chosen to introduce even more severe penalties to further criminalise asylum seekers for exercising their legal right to seek asylum.

As Detention Action have neatly summarised: “while the Bill fails to deal with the real problems that exist in the system, it pretends that the problems lie elsewhere and proposes a host of regressive, authoritarian and discriminatory policies that will cause deep harm to our society.”

While simultaneously abdicating responsibility to provide sanctuary to the world’s most vulnerable, the Government is cutting the international aid budget which will have the inevitable impact of driving up refugee numbers. These two actions combined will have a devastating impact on vulnerable people and refugees around the world. It is pitiful and this Government should be ashamed.

I want to finish by reminding the Government that this legislation was an opportunity to overhaul our asylum system and to embed fairness and compassion in the Home Office, instead they have chosen to pursue a deeply hostile and unpleasant attack on refugees and asylum seekers who have fled conflict and persecution and sought a safe home in our country.

I, for one, will never be able to support this and I hope colleagues across the House will stand against this dangerous and malicious legislation.

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