Another Bill dealing with immigration, asylum and nationality will seriously erode rights, according to immigration lawyers and organisations working with refugees.
Appeal rights lost
The Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill, which had its third Commons reading on 16 November, will remove entirely the rights of appeal of those refused permission to stay as students, workers or business persons, or to stay with parents or relatives here. Students who are part-way through their courses, refused permission to continue their studies because serious illness caused their attendance to fall, would have to leave the country or live precariously as overstayers, risking prosecution and removal, and with no rights to primary health care or other assistance. So would those trying to build up a fledgling business in this country. Their only appeal right would be against their removal, after it has taken place.
Other appeal rights the Bill proposes to remove include rights of appeal against refusal of visas, except for a narrow class of family visitors and dependants. Others who are refused a visa to come to the UK – for a business trip, a holiday, or to work or study – will have no appeal remedy, only the expensive and limited remedy of judicial review in the High Court (which they will be unable to attend). Leading immigration lawyer Frances Webber told IRR News: ‘These proposals make a mockery of access to justice, and will simply encourage more bad decisions by the Home Office. It’s unacceptable in principle that an executive decision which has a serious effect on an applicant cannot be appealed, and it would not be contemplated in any other field.’
Asylum rights removed
The Bill proposes a significant re-writing of the Refugee Convention so as to exclude a wide range of people from refugee protection. The UN Convention excludes from refugee protection those whose actions create refugees – those guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the UN, as well as serious non-political criminals. Clause 51 of the Bill seeks to extend this exclusion clause by redefining it so as to include those the government defines as ‘terrorists’, supporters, advocates and inciters or encouragers of terrorism.
A coalition comprising the Refugee Council and its Scottish and Welsh counterparts, Refugee Action and Amnesty International explains in its Briefing on the ‘counter-terror’ clauses of the Bill how this clause could be used to exclude from protection those speaking out against tyranny anywhere in the world – ie, just those people who most need and deserve protection as refugees. Anyone who calls for (or, under the government’s new anti-terrorism proposals, ‘glorifies’) any form of direct action – whether against civilians or armed forces, against democrats or dictators, against unoccupied buildings, monuments or statues, against computer networks or TV programmes – could be caught by these provisions.
Worse still, those refused asylum on this ground cannot, on appeal, argue that the risk they face at home is disproportionate to what they have done. The Bill requires the appeal tribunal to decide whether the exclusion clause applies – and if so, to dismiss the claim without even considering the risk of persecution feared by the refugee claimant. ‘This amounts to doing the dirty work of the world’s most tyrannical regimes for them’, pointed out Frances Webber. In Committee, the minister, Tony McNulty, could not answer Neil Gerrard MP’s question as to why Article 1F of the Refugee Convention needed revising and refugee determination procedures diluting in a way which the UN High Commissioner for Refugees had cautioned against.
Deprivation of citizenship
Another proposal would allow the government to remove British citizenship if it is ‘conducive to the public good’ to do so. This represents a dramatic extension of the measures contained in the Nationality Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, which enabled citizenship to be removed from someone who had done something ‘seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the United Kingdom or an overseas territory’. The Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (ILPA) points out that special protection should be accorded to citizenship, which is of a different order to immigration control. Citizenship is a fundamentally important right, and the government has not made a case for extending powers of deprivation.
More powers, more offences
The Bill includes more powers for police and other ‘authorised persons’ vis-à-vis immigrants, among which the most worrying is the power given to police, customs and excise personnel and other ‘authorised persons’ (APs), including employees of private sector organisations such as Global Solutions Ltd (GSL), to search vehicles, ships etc to check for immigrants whom the immigration service ‘might wish to examine’, and to search and detain anyone found for up to three hours, using ‘reasonable force’ if necessary.
There has already been concern about allegations of brutality and racism which have been made against GSL, and official enquiries have been set up to investigate. In this context, it is unsurprising that, as ILPA records in its briefing, the PCS (the union representing immigration officers) is among those expressing concern over giving private security firms more powers, particularly since new offences are created of absconding from AP detention, obstruction and assault of APs, which are punishable by up to fifty-one weeks’ imprisonment.
There are more powers of coercive information-gathering in the Bill. In particular, immigration officers will be empowered to fingerprint or subject to an iris scan anyone proferring an immigration document, to check that the holder’s biometric matches that of the document. Those seeking to leave may be held for up to twelve hours and examined.