A view from René Cassin activist and immigration lawyer, Michael Goldin
While the infamous Nationality and Borders Act 2022 has already been signed into law, many of its provisions have not yet come into force. We can therefore ‘look forward’ to British immigration law becoming more restrictive, convoluted and cruel over the coming months and years.
One of the ways in which this cruelty is already playing out is the agreement between the UK and Rwanda for asylum seekers to be transferred to the latter country for their asylum claims to be dealt with there. Leaving aside the fact that this is the latest manifestation of the long and brutal history of the British government forcibly moving people of colour around the world, this is an unworkable proposition. The government’s intention is that this will deter asylum seekers from making the perilous journey across the English Channel and claiming asylum in the UK. What would happen is that asylum seekers in Rwanda would find themselves without legal representations (Rwanda has no legal aid system) and at the mercy of a legal system which has never previously dealt with claims of asylum in a meaningful way. So, it is unclear how claimants will be able to appeal against refusals of their asylum claims. Furthermore, should asylum claims be rejected, and Rwanda become responsible for retuning them to their country of nationality (or indeed even if they are granted), claimants will likely simply make the dangerous journey across Europe all over again putting themselves at the mercy of people smugglers and other malicious actors thus compounding the problem the Home Office is claiming it is seeking to solve.
Fortunately, at the eleventh hour on 14th June, the European Court of Human Rights granted an injunction preventing a flight to Rwanda taking off. This is far from the end of the matter, however. The government is planning on overcoming the procedural and legal issues raised by the court and will probably reschedule a similar flight for later in the year. The injunction has even led to the government indicating that it will investigate withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights altogether; a shocking proposition that would remove fundamental rights from every single person in the UK regardless of their ethnicity or immigration status.
Not everything is bleak, however. The High Court recently found that several Afghan judges should have their immigration applications to be afforded protection in the UK decided substantively by the Home Office. The court found that the Home Office had put too many barriers in place to making a human rights-based ‘outside the rules’ application and that this was unreasonable. This is a small breath of fresh air. It is only right that Afghan citizens who were actively involved in supporting Afghanistan’s transition to democracy (including assisting the British government) and who now find themselves being targeted by the Taliban are afforded protection. Again however, this is not the end of the matter. These applications could still be refused by the Home Office leaving the applicants and their families (most of whom are in hiding) at the mercy of the Taliban. Furthermore, many people in similar situations in Afghanistan are not able to obtain legal representation and so are not even able to make the application in the first place.
With regards to those fleeing the war in Ukraine, it is telling that the government is doing its best to keep Ukrainian nationals outside the remit of decaying asylum system with the Ukraine Family Scheme intended for those in the UK to bring family members here. This is accompanied by the Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme which allows Ukrainian nationals to come to the UK if they have a sponsor willing to put them up for at least six months. This is hardly enough given the circumstances but at least the government is not ignoring the issue entirely as it does with so many other conflicts. Notably, the fact that concessions have been made for this conflict alone is similarly telling.
So, while it is not all bad news, the rolling out of the Nationality and Borders Act does mean that over the coming years our country will become even more dangerous and hostile for vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers. As Jews we recently celebrated the festival of Shavuot where, among other things, we celebrate the Ten Commandments. It is of note that six of these ten precepts are instructions of one sort or another to treat our fellow humans with dignity. It is manifest that, as Jews, we have a great tradition of understanding that while a society must be built on laws, those laws must be grounded in respect for our fellow men and women. The directions this government is taking us in terms of this country’s immigration policy is further away from a society built on such a belief. Our country is creating law and policy which will make our home increasingly inhospitable to those who need refuge as well as harmful to those who need our help the most – we must unequivocally stand against this.