Last week in the House of Commons, MPs debated the Nationality and Borders Bill, which has generated emails from Hastings and Rye constituents, many in support of the Bill and some against it. One of the questions I asked in the debate was, should nations prevent anyone from crossing their borders? As we are all citizens of the world, should we have the right to live and work where we choose?
All governments around the world have a primary responsibility to their citizens to keep their country safe and ensure economic and social stability for their citizens. There would be mass immigration without border control, which would put enormous burdens on infrastructure and public services, inevitably leading to economic instability and unemployment. These are the main reasons why every country has its own rules about who may travel, work, and reside within its borders.
Every country has the right to protect its borders and every country has legal migration routes via visas or work permits.
Every day, thousands of migrants and refugees leave their countries in search of refuge, safety and better lives. It is important to recognise the difference between refugees and migrants; there are some who write to me that everyone coming to this country (illegally) should be called refugees and treated as such. I have sympathy with this; after all, the vast majority of them are seeking a more secure, better life here in the UK. However, refugees and migrants are not the same. Refugees are unique in their plight; they have fled their country, unable or unwilling to return because of war, violence or fear of violence, or being persecuted because of their race, religion, sexuality, nationality, or political opinion. They have protection in law and states have obligations under the 1951 Convention Relating To The Status of Refugees. An economic migrant is different from a refugee, being someone who leaves his or her country of origin for education or financial or economic reasons. Economic migrants choose to move in order to find a better life and they do not flee from war-torn countries or because of persecution. Under international law, migrants are not afforded international protection; in other words, there is no economic asylum. In the same way that many British people leave the UK to seek a better life in Canada, Australia and USA, for example, they can only do so if they follow the immigration rules of these states.
The Nationality and Borders Bill will deliver the most comprehensive reform in decades to fix our broken asylum system. I cannot tell you how angry I have been with the way some of my constituents, as asylum seekers, have been treated by the system; left waiting for years before their claim is settled. The Bill will make the system fairer and more effective to ensure better protection and support for those in need of asylum. It will deter illegal entry into the UK, breaking the business model of people smugglers and their networks, better protecting the lives of those they endanger. It is a fact that every single person who comes to the UK without the correct documentation is entering illegally. However, it is well known that refugees seeking asylum in the UK are not penalised for entering illegally.
So, this Bill does not prevent the UK helping those in need of asylum; the UK has a proud record of helping those fleeing persecution, oppression or tyranny from around the world. Alongside providing around £10 billion a year to support people through our overseas aid, the UK is a global leader in refugee resettlement. As a country, between 2016 and 2019 we resettled more refugees from outside Europe than any member state of the EU. In total across all Government funded resettlement schemes, the UK has resettled more than 25,000 vulnerable refugees in need of protection over the past 6 years, with around half being children. Over 29,000 family reunion visas have also been issued in the last 5 years.
This Bill seeks to retain a compassionate approach and combine it with increased fairness, firmness and efficiency. I welcome the ambition to see an asylum system based on need, to better protect and support those who require our help most. One of the priorities of the Bill is to deter human trafficking, smuggling and modern slavery, and increase protections for those found to be a victim of modern slavery. It is vital that we crack down on the criminal groups that abuse and risk lives. Strengthening penalties against these criminals will halt the business model of criminal trafficking networks and protect those who are in danger of being trafficked. By cracking down on illegal immigration, we can prioritise those in genuine need and help prevent people making dangerous and unnecessary journeys to the UK.