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Amendments to Nationality and Borders Bill ‘incompatible with rights’ say MPs

Plans to amend the Nationality and Borders Bill which will make a number of changes to the UK’s asylum system are inconsistent with human rights, the rights of the child and international commitment, the parliamentary human rights committee has warned.

The clauses outlined in Parts 2 and 4 of the government’s Nationality and Borders Bill on deprivation of British citizenship fail to meet human rights standards and the Bill should be amended in order to give sufficient protection to human rights.

Deputy Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Joanna Cherry QC MP said: “The UK has a proud history of championing the human rights of refugees. We should continue in this tradition and do all we can to be a place of welcome and support for people who have been persecuted.  The bill is at odds with the refugee convention and with our human rights obligations and should be amended.

“Rather than coming up with new punitive measures and lambasting the difficulties in rejecting asylum applications, the government should focus on dealing with the lengthy backlog of cases. This needs to be achieved by better processing and adequate resourcing. Instead we have measures that would harm decision making, through needlessly penalising the late submission of evidence, and even cause further delays due to the new consideration of whether asylum seekers should have applied to another country first,” she added.

The report warns that the bill will create two separate categories of refugee, based on how a person has come to the UK and presented themselves to the authorities, and allow for each category to be treated differently.

This proposal is aimed at encouraging asylum seekers to use what the government has deemed to be “safe and legal routes” and is supposed to be aimed at dissuading people smugglers more than refugees. Being placed in Group 2 is likely to amount to a penalty that is prohibited under the Refugee Convention.

The government says that refugees should claim asylum in the first “safe country” they reach, but the committee heard evidence that there are simply not sufficient safe and legal routes available to those who seek refuge in this country. Asylum seekers often have little or no choice over their means of arrival in this country. Furthermore, the principle of differential treatment is fundamentally at odds with the Refugee Convention, the report adds, urging Clause 11 to be deleted from the bill.

“Clause 15 of the Bill would make an asylum claim inadmissible if, in the view of a decision-maker, there was another safe country with which the individual had a “connection”. The threshold for establishing a connection with a safe third state has been set too low and standards against which the safety of a third state is judged are insufficient. The Bill should be amended to ensure that claims would not be inadmissible if the third party state does not meet sufficient human rights standards including those required by the Refugee Convention,” the report said.

Furthermore, Schedule 3 of the Bill would allow for offshore processing of asylum claims, however, these proposals are inconsistent with the humanitarian and cooperative principles on which refugee protection is founded, the committee adds.

Part 4 of the Bill sets out provisions for the Secretary of State to permit the use of scientific methods for assessing a person’s age such as x-ray analysis and dental records whereas currently f the appearance and demeanour of the individual does not “very strongly suggest” that the individual is 25 years or older, s/he will be given the benefit of the doubt and provisionally treated as a child.

While the government has suggested age assessments should be used “to prevent adults masquerading as children in a bid to get support they would otherwise be entitled to,” the committee warns that the assessments are widely thought to lack the degree of accuracy required, and to be unethical due to the nature of procedures or the use of ionising radiation.

“Moreover, although not included in the Bill at present, the government has indicated that they wish to reduce the threshold for the use of the benefit of the doubt. Taken together these proposals would greatly increase the risk of a child being wrongly assessed to be an adult. This would be at odds with our human rights obligations under the UNCRC and could engage Article 3 of the ECHR if that person is detained as an adult when they are, in fact, a child and experience particularly traumatic consequences,” said the report.

The Bill also sets out the requirements of the Secretary of State to give notice of a deprivation of citizenship order, but the committee urges this clause to be deleted and, if it is retained, the Secretary of State should be required at a minimum to take reasonable steps to give notice of deprivation of citizenship orders.

“Fundamentally this bill increases the likelihood that the UK turns its back on people it should be helping. This would be wrong and the government needs to rethink these proposals,” Joanna Cherry concluded.

Legislative Scrutiny: Nationality and Borders Bill (Parts 1, 2 and 4) – Asylum, Home Office Decision-Making, Age Assessments, and Deprivation of Citizenship Orders

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