This week has seen events up and down the country highlighting the need for a more compassionate approach to people seeking sanctuary in the UK. Organised by the coalition, Together With Refugees, of which Action Foundation is a member, the Week of Action also underlined the deep flaws in the Government’s Nationality and Borders Bill. On Wednesday, there was a wonderful show of support for refugees and asylum seekers in Tynemouth where the community formed a heart on the beach. Today, as the week draws to a close, our CEO, Duncan McAuley has penned this personal reflection of what this Anti Refugee Bill will mean for people trying to escape persecution, like his friend Reza.
My friend Reza is sick. He has high blood pressure, meaning exhaustion and dizzy spells are a weekly occurrence. Despite a barrage of tests doctors couldn’t find a physiological cause and have concluded it’s down to ‘stress’, on this occasion they’re probably right.
Reza, who’s in his mid-thirties, made the journey from Iraq as a young man, fleeing threats of arrest and violence, leaving his parents and siblings behind and putting his trust in people smugglers to make it to a place of safety. Initially he made it as far as Greece where, for a number of weeks, he lived the dangerous life of sleeping rough, while negotiating the complex system of shadowy figures in an attempt to continue his journey to safety.
Reza hasn’t spoken to me about his time in Greece or travelling from there to Calais and eventually the UK. When it comes up, he goes quiet and simply says, ‘I can’t, I can’t, you don’t want to know’. If you ask Reza whether he would make the same journey again, he’ll tell you that he had no choice, staying in Iraq was not an option.
Reza has a lot going for him. His asylum application was successful, he has just completed an access course and is now studying at university. His English was excellent even before his arrival here and he’s settled well into UK society. But his health still troubles him, the journey he took has taken its toll.
The Nationality and Borders Bill, currently at committee stage in parliament, would mean anyone making the same journey as Reza will be branded a ‘criminal’ upon arrival, ensuring any route to permanent settlement in the UK is ruled out. Taking Afghanistan as an example, what this means is those who are lucky enough to be flown out or who are within the 20,000* the UK has committed to resettle over the next 5 years will be potentially eligible to stay permanently in the UK, but those who flee the same conflict without the same good fortune or resource, who are forced to make a journey similar to Reza’s, will ultimately be refused settlement.
The ‘Anti Refugee Bill’ lays out a number of measures which will either penalise those arriving in the UK through ‘irregular’ routes, making life more difficult once they arrive or make the whole system more complex and difficult to administrate, further exacerbating the issues of long delays and inconsistent decision making already prevalent.
As we approach the end of our Week of Action, I can’t help but reflect on Reza’s journey, wondering not only about the legal position of those like him if this bill is passed, but also the impact on the wellbeing of those arriving here to claim asylum. That’s why I signed the North East Pledge on the #AntiRefugeeBill and am calling for a ‘kinder, fairer approach’.
* for context on the ‘size’ of our commitment to resettlement, prior to the final assault on Kabul there were already 3.5 million refugees who had fled the conflict.