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Local politicians, unions and organisations reject Government’s new ‘anti-refugee’ immigration law

The mayor and dozens of other local voices have spoken out in an open letter against the proposed Nationality and Borders Bill.


Bristol City of Sanctuary, the organisation championing the city as a safe place for those fleeing from abroad, has published an open letter signed by leading local figures in protest at proposed changes to asylum and immigration laws. Priti Patel’s Nationality and Borders Bill has passed its second reading in the House of Commons, with the government stating that reforms are necessary to secure Britain’s borders. But campaigners say that the new rules would further undermine the UK’s commitment to protecting the rights of refugees.

Open letter: Seeking Sanctuary is a Human Right

“We had become increasingly concerned at the hostile and dehumanising rhetoric from the Home Office, and the Home Secretary in particular, around people seeking sanctuary. This concern was compounded with the announcement earlier this year of new government proposals which threaten the right to seek asylum in the United Kingdom – a right enshrined in international law more than half a century ago. Penalising people and threatening their asylum claims based on how they travel to seek asylum contravenes this right and undermines our history of offering sanctuary to people who need it. 

The proposals would punish people forced to take “irregular” routes to claim asylum in the UK, deeming them “inadmissible” to the asylum system. They would then be targeted for removal from the UK. If they could not be removed, then they would be given temporary protection with less entitlement to support and family reunion rights. This temporary protection would mean that people would be regularly reassessed for removal, a system which would create a huge burden of uncertainty and fear amongst those seeking sanctuary. 

The proposals also include the possibility of offshore processing, amending the National Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 to make it possible to move people whilst an asylum claim is pending. We have seen various reported suggestions for locations but what remains is that, as we have seen in Australia, offshore processing is an inhumane and dangerous way to treat our fellow human beings. 

The policy also creates a dichotomy of deserving and undeserving; those few who are able to come through government resettlement schemes versus the majority who are forced to take irregular routes into the country. We wish that people did not have to resort to risking their lives to enter the UK and have long campaigned for safe and legal routes that take away this need. However, introducing punitive measures against people who are forced to enter through irregular routes is not the answer. 

In her speech to the House of Commons, Priti Patel referred to “illegal arrivals.” Language such as this demonises and dehumanises; no one is illegal, and it is a dangerous narrative to pursue. People seek asylum here because of war, persecution and violence; they have fled some of the most unspeakable horrors and should be offered protection, not criminalised. 

Under international law, anyone has the right to apply for asylum in any country that has signed the 1951 Convention and to remain there until the authorities have assessed their claim. It is also recognised in the Convention that people fleeing persecution may have to use irregular means in order to escape and to claim asylum in another country, and there is no legal way to travel to the UK for the specific purpose of seeking asylum. Moreover, there is no requirement under international law that asylum must be sought in the first safe country that the person encounters. 

We agree that the asylum system needs a massive overhaul. In its current state it is ineffective and inhumane; these proposals will only make that worse. Penalising people for seeking sanctuary here through irregular routes is unfair and unjust, especially when there is little other option. The Home Office says that “Britain needs a firm but fair system.” We believe that this is anything but fair.”

Initial Signatories

Sign the letter here

Bristol City of Sanctuary

Ashley Community Housing

Avon Fire Brigades Union


Bridges for Communities

Bristol Defend Asylum Seekers Campaign

Bristol Hospitality Network

Bristol Green Group of Councillors

Bristol Labour Group of Councillors

Bristol Liberal Democrats of Councillors

Bristol Refugee Festival

Bristol Refugee Rights

Caring in Bristol

Centre for the Study of Bible and Violence

Cllr Asher Craig, Deputy Mayor of Bristol

Council of Bristol Mosques

Communication Workers Union South West Region

Darren Jones MP Bristol North West

Easton Jamia Masjid

Fire Brigades Union – South West

Global Goals Centre

Hazrat Bilal Masjid

Horfield Quaker Meeting

Houria CIC

Kerry McCarthy MP Bristol East

Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol

Nailsea Baptist Church

Project MAMA

Redland Quaker Meeting

Refugee Women of Bristol

SARI (Stand Against Racism and Inequality)

South West Trades Union Council

St Nicholas of Tolentino RC Church

Thangam Debbonaire MP Bristol West

Unite South West

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Report a comment. Comments are moderated according to our Comment Policy.

  • Thats good news! Will the unions also now make a statement opposing health passports, supporting workers who are? Or fight to claw back some of the rights that have been lost over the last year because of the coronna virus act? Word is that bosses can fire workers just becuase they think a worker is a risk, (epsecially those workers that have defended themselves and others in the past) without evidence. It seems like unions and aspects of the left arent exactly for free movement and free association nowadays.


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