On 20 October, a group of students from the LSESU Amnesty International and Women in Politics societies attended the Refugees Welcome rally at Parliament Square. They were among the hundreds protesting the new Nationality and Borders Bill, backed by Home Secretary Priti Patel.
An LSE student who attended the rally said that the highlight was the speakers, who provided insight into their experiences with the asylum system as refugees. The student encouraged peers to read more about the Nationality and Borders Bill and “fight against it while standing in solidarity with everyone who has had to experience the asylum system”.
According to the UK Home Office website, the bill has three primary objectives: “deter illegal entry” into the UK, make the asylum system “fairer and more effective”, and remove people with “no right” to be in the country. The bill passed its second reading and is awaiting the Public Bill Committee’s report to the House in early November.
The government further explained that in 2019, UK asylum applications increased by 21 percent, with the asylum system now costing over £1 billion a year. More than 16,000 people entered the UK illegally in 2020. Consequently, the government estimates that there are now over 10,000 foreign national offenders in the UK “posing a risk to the public”.
The new bill has been met with massive national and international backlash. In a submission to the Public Bill Committee, Amnesty International called the government’s case for the bill “profoundly flawed”.
Rossella Pagliuchi-Lor, the UK Representative for the UNHCR, stated in an article: “This bill would create a discriminatory two-tier asylum system violating the 1951 Refugee Convention and target bona fide refugees. The right to seek asylum is universal and doesn’t depend on the mode of arrival. Under the Refugee Convention, states must grant asylum seekers access to their territory and refugees access to their rights.”
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also criticised the bill on the grounds that it would “unfairly punish many refugees”.
The criticism towards the bill is further exacerbated by the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in August this year, which has subsequently led to tens of thousands of Afghans fleeing the nation and attempting to seek asylum in nations like the United Kingdom.
The LSESU Conservative Society also issued a statement on the new bill. While the society acknowledges the right of people to engage in protests against the bill, it claims that the bill “contains provisions which will enable more efficient processing of applications, as well as greater support for those who are granted asylum, enabling them to become integrated members of society”. Hence, the society states that “it would be misleading to construe the bill as ‘anti-refugee’”.