If Ukrainians are worthy of dignity, admiration, and basic rights and entitlements, then so is everyone else fleeing conflict and coming to the UK. If the current crisis has focused some minds about the nature of fleeing conflict and the principles that should govern our asylum system, now is the time to put those principles into practice and scrap the Nationality and Borders Bill.
After years of dehumanising people who flee conflict and persecution, and implementing punitive laws designed to deter asylum seekers – culminating in the Nationality and Borders Bill – the government is now accepting what many of us working with those people have been saying for years about the principles that should govern the asylum system.
On Wednesday, Michael Gove told the House of Commons that:
“This Government and this House—indeed, everyone in the UK—continue to be in awe of the bravery of the people of Ukraine. They are victims of savage, indiscriminate, unprovoked aggression. Their courage under fire and determination to resist inspires our total admiration.”
He said that Ukrainians:
“will be able to live and work in the United Kingdom for up to three years. will have full and unrestricted access to benefits, healthcare, employment and other support.”
“many of those coming here will want to work, to contribute and to be fully part of society. It is the case already that we have had offers from those in the private sector willing to provide training and jobs to people so that they can fully integrate into society for as long as they are here.”
We have been saying for years that, far from denigrating and criminalising the act of moving across borders to seek asylum, we should be in awe of the courage and bravery of people fleeing conflict. It has always been clear that those people should be provided with fast access to status, benefits, healthcare and employment. The government has not always seen it this way.
Unfortunately, people who come to the UK to seek asylum are waiting between 1 and 3 years for their claims to be processed, living on £35 a week in sub-standard accommodation. Under the Nationality and Borders Bill people those people could face prosecution would be held in ‘accommodation centres’ such as military barracks and could be sent thousands of miles away to offshore detention centres. Those people would at best be eligible for temporary status and could not bring their families here to join them.
It is difficult to see how this government can sustain such cognitive dissonance. If Ukrainians are worthy of dignity, admiration, and basic rights and entitlements, then so is everyone else fleeing conflict and coming to the UK. If the current crisis has focused some minds about the nature of fleeing conflict and the principles that should govern our asylum system, now is the time to put those principles into practice and scrap the Nationality and Borders Bill.
We have already seen racist coverage of the Ukraine crisis in the news – that this crisis is different because it is affecting a ‘civilised’ country, ‘not a developing, third world nation’, and its victims are ‘European people with blue eyes and blonde hair’, and ‘Europeans leaving in cars that look like ours to save their lives’.
We urge the government not to view this conflict as exceptional, and not to make crass and racialised divisions regarding who, among the world’s displaced, is worthy of sanctuary. This must begin with binning the hostile & toxic Nationality & Borders Bill.