LONDON: The British government has made a number of legislative changes to tackle illegal immigration that many rights organizations are significantly concerned about, said a UK politician.
“Sadly, there are real concerns around the process of seeking asylum, and that is why from a humanitarian perspective, we are really trying to call upon the government to do more to encourage safe passage so people don’t need to worry about whether they will be granted refugee status or not. If there’s a genuine need for why they have come here, they just need to be supported,” Ahmad Bostan, Labour councilor for Abbey, told Arab News.
“How they came here, why they came here, has less relevance than that the fact that they are here now. The question must be: What can we do to help and support them?”
Ministers say the Nationality and Borders Bill, which was passed in the House of Commons last week and is set to be debated in the House of Lords next month, aims to alleviate the beleaguered asylum system and make it fairer and more effective to better protect refugees, deter illegal entry, break human smuggling gangs, and remove those who do not have the right to be in the UK.
It comes as refugee and migrant crossings have witnessed a dramatic rise in recent weeks, with more than 1,000 people arriving in small boats in a single day in November for the first time, and over 25,000 arriving via the Dover Strait so far this year, many escaping from war-torn areas such as Syria and Iraq. Last month also saw the deadliest crossing on record, with at least 27 people dying in a mass drowning as they attempted to cross the world’s busiest shipping lane.
“I think a key concern for all of us at the moment is people not understanding refugees, not understanding their plight, who they are, where they are from, why they have made these journeys, and really getting people to reflect on that. When I talk about people, I’m also talking about policymakers across the political spectrum, because there has to be a realization,” he said.
Bostan, who is also a cabinet member for the environment, admitted that seeking asylum in Britain is a very difficult process and everyone’s journey is different, but there is currently a grave concern around providing safe passages and whether migrants will be granted refugee status in the UK.
“No one chooses to be a refugee or to be in an environment where they are subjected to persecution and poverty in the first place. What we are really calling for is a greater level of empathy with refugees who are suffering, recognizing they are the victims of poverty and circumstance, and we shouldn’t be putting a stigma on them and almost criminalizing what they are doing,” he said. “If anything, we should do whatever we can, whether it’s governments or individuals at large, to help them.”
Human rights organization Amnesty International said the legislation “will create significant obstacles and harms to people seeking asylum in the UK’s asylum system,” and will allow smugglers to thrive, make the journey even more dangerous, penalize refugees, undermine their protection, and oppose the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention.
In October, leading immigration lawyers released a report commissioned by the human rights group Freedom From Torture, saying Home Secretary Priti Patel’s controversial bill breaches international and domestic law in at least 10 different ways.
“We’re seeing many children on their own coming here, on very flimsy boats, in very difficult conditions, and you think no mother or father would want to send their children in that way unless their lives were really desperate, unless it was literally a life and death situation,” Bostan said.
He added there have been a number of great initiatives across Europe, including in Britain, where companies and governments have made concerted efforts to look after and invest in refugees and put them in training and development programs, whereby they have then been able to give back to society and pay taxes. “We really want to promote that, as well as to say that refugees are not here to be a burden on society. They want to give back, they want to get involved, but it’s our role to give them that compassion and faith in them to start that process when they arrive in our country, in our city, in our town.”
UK-based charity Penny Appeal has launched its annual Winter Emergency campaign, with a hard-hitting social media video “to remind people of the harsh realities” of those “who are risking their lives crossing the English Channel to plead for asylum in the UK,” it said in a statement.
The video, which carries a graphic content warning and is difficult to watch, shows a mother in significant distress after discovering her daughter had fallen out of her baby sling as she arrived on the British shore.
Bostan, who is also communications director at the international Muslim charity, said “the video shows a heartbreaking reality for so many refugees fleeing persecution, fleeing very difficult conditions around the world.”
“What we’re really trying to show is that every single one of us has a responsibility to that child, every single one of us has a responsibility to that mother. They shouldn’t be subjected to such difficult conditions. Safe passage should be guaranteed for everyone,” he said.
Penny Appeal’s “Tis The Season but not for everyone!” campaign aims to reflect on the huge emphasis British Muslims and the Islamic faith has on giving back to society, helping those in need, and serving those less fortunate, Bostan said.
Bostan said that there will be thousands of families still making the treacherous journeys across rough seas, risking everything to find a better life for their families, and “that will be the sad reality on Christmas Day — it’s not a time of celebration for everyone.”
“What we are really calling for is for compassion and empathy to prevail here, and we’re really hopeful that our work and our campaign do raise awareness and encourage policymakers, people with power and influence, to do more for refugees, rather than marginalizing them in any way,” Bostan added.