LONDON: A new bill being debated in the House of Lords threatens to “all but destroy” the main legal safe route for refugees to reach the UK, a charity has warned.
The Nationality and Borders Bill, which has passed through the House of Commons, seeks to penalize asylum seekers who arrive in Britain via unauthorized routes by granting them only temporary protection and limiting their family reunion rights.
The Refugee Council said the plan “flies in the face” of the government’s commitment to strengthening safe routes to the UK, and “undermines” the stated intention of the new bill to strengthen safe and legal routes.
Enver Solomon, CEO of the charity, said by removing refugees’ rights to family reunion, the government would be “throwing thousands of highly vulnerable people into desperately precarious, risky situations and at risk of exploitation by people smugglers.”
The new changes would impact people like Mada, a Syrian woman who was able to reunite with her husband in the UK in 2018 after the family was split apart when escaping their country’s war.
Mada’s husband made the treacherous journey to Britain while she and her children remained in Egypt, to where they had fled.
Being granted refugee status in the UK made it easier for his wife and children to make it to Britain, delivering them safety and security.
The Nationality and Borders Bill would make it almost impossible for Mada’s family to have reunited, potentially leaving them without a husband and father, and vulnerable to crime and exploitation.
“The most important thing for me and my children was safety. (In Egypt) I couldn’t afford to pay for school. The children didn’t feel safe, even at home,” Mada told The Independent.
“I feel lucky. I think about if I didn’t have this chance ... I don’t want any family to go through that.”
According to government data, 29,000 people — over 90 percent of them women and children — have been able to come to the UK safely under family reunion rules that allow people to join a close family member in the country.
Solomon told The Independent: “The cruel and heartbreaking irony is that this government’s proposal all but destroys the main legal safe route open to refugees and predominately used by vulnerable women and children — the very people this government has vowed to protect.”
The Refugee Council calculated that as many as 3,500 people per year could be prevented from reuniting with their families if the bill becomes law.
A Home Office spokesperson said in a statement: “We will continue to uphold our international obligations. More than 39,000 family reunion visas have been granted since 2015 under our refugee family reunion policy, with over half issued to children.
“Our New Plan for Immigration will fix the broken asylum system so that it is fair but firm, helping those in genuine need through safe and legal routes while stopping those who abuse the system. Family reunion will continue to play an important part (in) our immigration system.”