The Nationality and Borders Bill will make the UK “one of the most anti-refugee counties in the world”, a top international charity has said.
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) branded votes in the House of Commons on Tuesday night “shameful”, after Tory MPs removed amendments proposed by the House of Lords.
Just four Tory MPs voted against the government, despite suggestions of a rebellion against Priti Patel’s extreme policy.
The votes came as three million people flee the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with opposition MPs warning that the bill could criminalise those escaping conflict – and branding the new laws a “traffickers charter”.
Conservative MPs reinserted clauses that would allow the government to send refugees offshore and detain them indefinitely, a policy which aid groups said had caused “terrible suffering” when tried by Australian authorities.
Proposals by peers to give people a safe route to join their families in the UK were also removed.
“It’s shameful that the government has rejected these moderate, sensible changes, which would have removed some of the cruellest elements of the Nationality and Borders Bill,” Sophie McCann, MSF’s UK advocacy officer, told The Independent.
“In its current form, the bill will enshrine the UK as one of the most anti-refugee countries in the world, at a time when the devastating impact of war and conflict is absolutely evident.”
The charity is urging ministers to reconsider. “The government cannot be serious about this bill – it is unworkable, exorbitantly expensive, and inhumane, targeting some of the most vulnerable people in the world,” McCann said.
“There is nothing ‘fair’ about criminalising, detaining, pushing back and imprisoning refugees in offshore detention centres simply because of how they arrive in the UK.
“Closing off routes to the UK will only push people into the hands of criminal gangs and into more dangerous methods of attempting the journey.”
‘Protection, not punishment’
Pauline Chetcuti, head of policy at Oxfam, said the legislation “flagrantly undermines our obligations under international law”.
She said: “The Ukrainian conflict painfully illustrates how innocent civilians everywhere have no choice but to flee conflict, persecution and violence. We need an asylum system that is based on the principle of protection, not punishment.
“This bill flagrantly undermines our obligations under international law to give all those who seek sanctuary a fair hearing.
“Amendments introduced by the House of Lords that would have rejected the worst elements of this bill – including removing the clauses that punish refugees based on how they arrive to the UK and removing offshore processing – have unfortunately been voted down in the House of Commons today, leaving some of the most harmful parts in place.
“The UK government needs to urgently provide adequate, safe routes for people fleeing violence and bloodshed in Ukraine, Yemen or elsewhere.”
Defending the bill in the Commons on Tuesday, Home Office minister Tom Pursglove claimed: “There can be no doubt about the strength of feeling on these important issues. There could also be no doubt that as a House we stand united in our desire to support vulnerable people in accordance with our long-standing tradition of welcoming those in need of protection.
“We, perhaps, just disagree on how that is best achieved. But it’s frustrating, I have to say that often criticism is made, but that isn’t matched with a credible alternative.”
Yvette Cooper, Labour’s shadow home secretary, retorted: “At a time when British people have made clear we must help Ukraine, this is truly shameful. Our country is better than this.”