LONDON: The UK will block visas for people from countries that refuse to accept the return of rejected asylum seekers or people convicted of crimes.
Proposed new powers in the forthcoming nationality and borders bill would allow the Home Office to suspend applications from citizens of countries deemed to be uncooperative “in relation to the removal from the UK of nationals of that country.” In addition, their visa fees could be increased.
It is thought the new laws are most likely to affect people from a number of countries in the Middle East and North Africa — including Iran, Iraq, Eritrea and Sudan — whose governments fail or are reluctant to work with UK authorities.
The bill, described as “the biggest overhaul of the UK’s asylum system in decades” by Home Secretary Priti Patel, will also give the Home Office the power to strip asylum seekers who enter the UK illegally of the rights granted to those who arrive through legal means, to deport asylum seekers before their claims or appeals are concluded, and to limit access to financial benefits.
Under the plans the extradition process for individuals refused asylum will be accelerated, “rigorous age assessments” will be introduced to prevent adults pretending to be minors, and it will become harder for individuals with “unsubstantiated claims” to be granted asylum.
Convicted people smugglers could face life sentences, and foreign criminals who breach deportation orders will face harsher sentences.
The Home Office will, however, also introduce discretionary powers to offer protection and asylum, in exceptional circumstances, to people in “immediate danger and at risk in their home country.”
The proposed changes have been condemned by a number of charities.
The Refugee Council described the bill is “anti-refugee,” and said that 9,000 people currently in the UK after fleeing war and persecution would fall foul of the rule changes.
Steve Valdez-Symonds, refugee and migrant rights program director at Amnesty International UK, told The Guardian the bill would “fatally undermine the right to asylum,” adding: “This reckless and deeply unjust bill is set to bring shame on Britain’s international reputation.”
Sonya Sceats, CEO of the charity Freedom from Torture, said the bill is “dripping with cruelty” and an “affront to the caring people in this country who want a kinder, fairer approach to refugees.”