Like many others in Brecon and Radnor, I have watched the unfolding situation in Afghanistan with horror. This is a stark reminder that all too often people don’t choose to leave their homes. They are forced to flee, leaving behind everything that they once knew, in fear for their lives and running towards safety wherever they might find it. If other countries shut their borders, there is nowhere for them to go.
Sadly, this is what the UK Government is proposing to do with the Nationality and Borders Bill. This ‘anti-refugee’ Bill will criminalise people travelling via so-called ‘irregular routes’ — often the only routes available to people fleeing for their lives, like those in Afghanistan. Quite simply there is often insufficient time to obtain a visa, await clearance and no simple, timely or safe way to seek asylum outside of the desired host country.
The Nationality and Borders Bill, which will make it even harder for people to seek safety, needs a major rethink. In a few months’ time, some Afghan people will reach the UK after a perilous journey because of a lack of safe routes to get here, and under this Bill as it stands, they will risk being locked up or turned away.
Many people in Brecon and Radnor want to welcome people seeking safety from Afghanistan and elsewhere. Every Local Authority in Wales has pledged to take families fleeing from the Taliban. The Government should enable us to do so in a compassionate and hospitable way.
We have a proud history of helping those seeking safety from around the world. Wales aspires to be a Nation of Sanctuary, celebrating Welsh hospitality, so that wherever people seeking sanctuary go, they are met with welcome, understanding and celebration of their unique contribution to the rich tapestry of Welsh life.
Now, we need to step up once more by providing urgent protection to Afghan people and ask our MPs to help amend the Nationality and Borders Bill so it reflects the welcome and kindness we would want for our families and children in these circumstances.
Hay Brecon and Talgarth Sanctuary for Refugees is a member of a coalition known as Together with Refugees who have designated October 18-24 as a week of action. During this week, the aim is to highlight concerns about the Nationality and Borders Bill which is now at the committee stage in the Commons where it will be scrutinised carefully with the help of evidence from both experts by experience and interest groups.
The main concern is that the Bill threatens to take a wrecking ball to the right to claim asylum in the UK. Under the Bill as it stands, only refugees arriving through extraordinarily restricted “official” routes, such as refugee resettlement, will be allowed to claim protection. All others will be deemed “inadmissible” to claim asylum and the Government will seek to deport them. If they cannot be deported, they may be allowed to claim asylum in the UK but they will not be given the right to settle.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the bill does nothing to increase access to “official” routes or to offer safe passage for unaccompanied children or others with family ties in the UK. It does not address the right to work whilst awaiting decisions upon asylum cases which can take years and may lead to exploitation such as modern day slavery. No one leaves home, endures severe hardship, boards a flimsy dinghy , or travels hanging under a lorry unless this seems less risky than the alternative. To paraphrase Warsan Shire ‘when home becomes the mouth of a shark even the water seems safer’… This Bill does not solve any of the current problems with the asylum system but threatens a whole range of unpleasant strictures for anyone fleeing persecution and torture who doesn’t have the time or ability to obtain a visa and processing in their own country.
Hay Brecon and Talgarth Sanctuary for Refugees believes that an asylum system is possible where people forced to flee the homes they loved receive compassion, justice and support. We know that the people of Brecon and Radnor want to welcome people seeking safety from Afghanistan and other places, to show them true Welsh hospitality. We need to convince our elected Representatives that the 0.6% of the UK’s population, (less than 390,000 people), who are here because of having had to seek asylum at some stage in their lives are not a threat to the British way of life, nor are they a drain on our resources. Indeed, through their many professional and other skills they are helping to keep our country running.
HBTSR are supporting the week of action to highlight the Bill by holding an awareness session on 20th October in Brecon by encircling St Mary’s Church at 10.30 and on 21st October will be in Hay Market . Please join us on Wednesday 20th as we attempt to form a socially distanced circle around St Mary’s Church- Encircling the heart of Brecon with Love. Consider displaying an Orange Heart , a symbol of hope, love and life belts, to show your support. #WhoWeAre #Together with Refugees. If you want more details please see our website www.hbtsr.org.uk or email [email protected]