A surge in COVID-19 cases notwithstanding, UK authorities are continuing to arrange deportation flights. On 21 July, a flight to Zimbabwe departed with an estimated 14 persons on board. The first mass-deportation to Zimbabwe in years, media reports state that the flight marked the start of a planned “summer season” of deportations organised by the Home Office. Originally, the flight to Zimbabwe was scheduled to remove 50 people, but due to a combination of dozens of escorts having to self-isolate having come into contact with COVID-positive individuals; a new COVID outbreak at Brook House Immigration Removal Centre; and legal challenges, an estimated 36 deportations were paused.
The UK’s treatment of asylum seekers has come under renewed scrutiny after a controversial new “Nationality and Borders Bill”–dubbed the “Anti-Refugee Bill” by many campaigners–received backing in Parliament. According to the country’s Home Secretary Priti Patel, the bill will adopt “a fair but firm approach” and is “the change we need to fix the UK’s broken asylum system.” Among its various reforms is the criminalisation of entry into the UK without permission, an accelerated appeals procedure, and plans for Australian-style offshore detention. According to the bill, asylum seekers who travel to the UK from a safe third country will risk prosecution for unlawful entry and their asylum claims will be treated as “inadmissible”, and amendments to both the UK’s 2002 Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act and 2004 Asylum and Immigration Act will allow removal to a “safe country” while an asylum claim is pending.
NGOs, rights campaigners, and opposition MPs slammed the new bill. More than 200 organisations joined the “Together with Refugees” campaign, which is calling for a “fair, effective, and humane asylum system.” The UK’s Shadow Home Secretary lambasted it as “a missed opportunity that represents the worst of all worlds,” while another Labour MP stated: “The Bill is not about improving legislation, but about hate. It is little more than political gesturing of the worst kind.” The NGO Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) expressed dismay at the bill’s “dire implications for human rights,” and the Refugee Council described it as “the latest stage in the ongoing attack on refugee rights in the UK.”
Many also argue that the bill breaches the 1951 Refugee Convention, which provides that the status of an asylum claim should not be dependent upon mode of entry to a country. Others have also highlighted the UK’s relatively low arrival rate within Europe – “It’s important to remember that compared to other European countries, the UK was only fifth in absolute terms in the number of asylum applications it received in 2020, and 17th if we adjust this number by population size.”
As previously reported on this platform (see 22 April update), non-nationals living in the UK are eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines, “regardless of whether they have the legal right to live and work in the country and that getting the shot would not trigger immigration checks.” However, according to special report published by The Independent and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, “hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrants face being blocked from booking Covid vaccinations, because GP surgeries are refusing to register them.” According to the report, fewer than a quarter of GPs across the country would register someone without ID documents or proof of address–thus leaving them incapable of accessing the vaccine.
On 21 July, campaigners welcomed the announcement that plans for an immigration detention facility in County Durham (Hassockfield) have been opposed by Durham County Council. “The County council has now clearly challenged that view, and opponents of the scheme are eager to work with the Council in any way possible to prevent the site from being used as an immigration detention centre in the future.”
- D. Taylor, “Legal Bids Mean UK Deportation Flight to Zimbabwe Takes Off Just One-Third Full,” The Guardian, 22 July 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/jul/22/legal-bids-mean-uk-deportation-flight-to-zimbabwe-takes-off-just-one-third-full
- UK Government, “Nationality and Borders Bill”, 2021, https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/58-02/0141/210141.pdf
- UK Parliament, “Nationality and Borders Bill”, Volume 699, 19 July 2021, https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-07-19/debates/FC19E458-F75D-480D-A20D-CD1E7ADC937E/NationalityAndBordersBill
- Refugee Action, Twitter, 21 July 2021, https://twitter.com/RefugeeAction/status/1417881035484934145
- Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID), “BID’s Response to the Nationality and Borders Bill,” 7 July 2021, https://www.biduk.org/articles/850-bid-s-response-to-the-nationality-and-borders-bill
- Refugee Council, “The Nationality and Borders Bill – A Devastating Day for Refugee Protection,” 6 July 2021, https://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/latest/news/the-nationality-and-borders-bill-a-devastating-day-for-refugee-protection/
- A. Qureshi and L. Mort, “Nationality and Borders Bill: The Proposed Reforms Will Further Frustrate an Already Problematic Asylum System,” LSE, https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/nationality-and-borders-bill/
- P. Walsh, “UK Nationality and Borders Bill Q&A: How Will it Affect Migration Across the English Channel?” The Conversation, 21 July 2021, https://theconversation.com/uk-nationality-and-borders-bill-qanda-how-will-it-affect-migration-across-the-english-channel-164808
- M. Bulman et al, “How Undocumented Migrants are Blocked from Booking Covid Vaccinations,” The Independent, 16 July 2021, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/undocumented-vaccine-covid-nhs-migrants-uk-b1882555.html
- G. Banks, “Campaigners celebrate after council object to immigration camp at Medomsley Detention Centre”, The Northern Echo, 21st July 2021, https://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/19459793.campaigners-celebrate-council-object-immigration-camp-medomsley-detention-centre