Cartoon strip of Priti Patel's plans for asylum seekers

Government’s Fair Borders Bill Seeks to Break International Human Rights Law

The government’s mantra when it comes to immigration and deportation has been a tough, ruthless, and inhumane approach to asylum seekers who need safety. Now, the Home Office is doubling down on this approach and legalising this ruthlessness through the ‘Fair Borders’ or Border Control Bill.

This Bill seeks to make it easier for the Home Office to deport and deny asylum seekers in the country by setting a list of requirements that they must meet before leave is granted.

The government hopes to subvert the conventions of the Human Rights Acts which they believe is too broad a law to be used in deportation cases and is used by ‘activist lawyers’ to frustrate their aims.

Currently, the government is obliged to allow asylum seekers to stay in the country while they are seeking leave under common law. This could change under the Border Control Bill if legal requirements are set in place that would restrict an asylum seeker’s ability to seek and obtain leave once they are in the UK.

Frequent and aggressive campaigning by the government has created a hostile environment in many parts of the media against asylum seekers with Patel referring to them as rapists and criminals.

From figures like Nigel Farage, to the right-wing press and even the BBC, coverage has sought to stigmatise and dehumanise, describing all people crossing the channel in particular as ‘illegal’ and linking asylum seekers to organised crime. This is despite the fact that, even in the small number of cases where gangs are involved in smuggling asylum seekers, the people themselves are being exploited.

The government will use the bill to streamline deportation and try to cut off asylum without implementing more safe legal routes [Image Gerd Altmann from Pixabay]

Just like the waves from machines they floated as a possible measure against such arrivals, the Home Office is now riding the tide of the so-called channel crossing ‘crisis’ with the new Bill.

Referring to asylum seekers crossing the channel as a ‘crisis’ holds extremely negative connotations and exaggerates the frequency of people making these journeys to enter the UK without analysing why.

Coverage has sought to stigmatise and dehumanise, describing all people crossing the channel in particular as ‘illegal’ and linking asylum seekers to organised crime

In fact, the recorded number of people crossing the channel is very low. Abi Tierney, the Director General of UK Visas and Immigration stated in September 2020 that only 5000 people successfully landed in the UK by crossing the channel. PA news recorded approximately 8417 people making the dangerous journey across the year. However up to September 2020, the number of asylum claims actually fell from the year before, not rose.

In the same statement, Tierney notes that 98% of those 5000 had claimed asylum once they were in the UK, which shows there was no desire for the asylum seekers to be involved in gang activity or any other so-called criminal activities. Around half are successful, which increases again on appeal, however, over 60,000 people seeking safety are still waiting for a decision on their claim over six months later.

The Fair Borders Bill solves none of the most pressing issues with the current immigration and specifically asylum systems that directly feed the cycle of people crossing the channel in small boats and keep people trapped in the country in limbo, unable to work or rebuild.

Using the anti-immigration narrative to justify this Bill will only harshen the hostile atmosphere against asylum seekers. While the government is actively seeking this to help them streamline the deportation process, it will have dangerous effects on the political and public debate surrounding the topic.

Far-right groups and people within parliament are emboldened to engage in hostile anti-immigrant rhetoric and behaviour in a toxic political environment.

Houses of Parliament, London
The Bill is going into its second reading in the House of Commons in February where it will be debated [Image: Nomadic Julien on Unsplash]

This Bill will allow the government to sanction acts of “inhumane or degrading treatment”, contrary to the Human Rights Acts, via deportation. Combined with changes to the Immigration Rules allowing for returns to potentially any ‘safe third country’, as decided by the state, asylum seeker’s lives could be put at immediate and serious risk.

Far-right groups and people within parliament are emboldened to engage in hostile anti-immigrant rhetoric and behaviour in a toxic political environment

This directly breaks international human rights law. Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights states that all countries must avoid sending an asylum seeker back to their home country or even a country they don’t know if it puts their lives or freedom in danger, and provide safe routes for free movement and to claim asylum.

The government seems to have forgotten that human rights apply to every single human being, even the worst criminals in the country are protected from inhumane treatment in prison thanks to their human rights. The Bill’s second reading, which allows MP’s to debate it in the House of Commons, comes in February. The government must be kept in check.  

[Header Image: Steve Bell, The Guardian]

Written by
Kieran Isgin