A refugee charity has called on Wales to oppose the UK government’s Nationality and Borders Bill.

The Bill, which has been widely condemned by human rights groups, conflicts with the Welsh Government’s “nation of sanctuary” policy, the Welsh Refugee Council has said.

The charity said the “anti-refugee” Bill is “cruel, punitive, and inhumane towards people whose hopes are to live safe and feel free.”

It’s launched a petition, which has so far received 560 signatories, calling on Welsh politicians to object to the Bill in legislation.

Meanwhile Plaid Cymru MS Sioned Williams, the party’s spokesperson for social justice, has tabled a Senedd Statement of Opinion expressing "concern" with the UK asylum system and calling on the UK government to withdraw the Borders Bill.

The National Wales: Sioned Williams MS has tabled a statement opposing the Borders Bill at the Senedd. (Source: Huw Evans Agency)Sioned Williams MS has tabled a statement opposing the Borders Bill at the Senedd. (Source: Huw Evans Agency)

The Statement has so far been endorsed by seventeen Senedd members - from Plaid, Welsh Labour and the Liberal Democrats – and Williams will be seeking comment from First Minister Mark Drakeford during Plenary next week.

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The campaign comes just over a week after 27 people, including three children, were killed attempting to cross the English Channel from France.

Abia, a refugee from Syria, said: “I was three months pregnant when war and conflict were all around me.

“My choices: stay until I got hit by a bomb, live in a refugee camp where I was not welcomed - or leave my home.

“I chose to leave, and the only way I could do that was by putting my life in the hands of traffickers.”

The National Wales: A protest was called in London last week after 27 people drowned attempting to cross the English Channel (source: PA)A protest was called in London last week after 27 people drowned attempting to cross the English Channel (source: PA)

The Nationality and Borders Bill, currently making its way through the UK parliament, proposes significant changes to Britain’s asylum system.

People claiming asylum do so when they are unable to live safely in their country of origin: they may be fleeing racial or religious persecution, persecution based on their sexuality or gender identity, and/or persecution based on their political beliefs.

The UK takes in an unusually low number of asylum seekers based on its wealth and size. According to the UN Refugee Agency, the UK received 37,235 applications for asylum in the year ending June 2021.

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Comparatively, Germany received just under 115,000, France received around 87,000, and Spain just over 67,000. Proportionate to population size, the UK is ranked 17th for asylum claims compared with other European countries.

Some refugees can claim asylum through official settlement schemes. The Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme, for example, will notionally assist women, LGBTQ people and those who helped the UK during its occupation of Afghanistan, flee the Taliban regime.

But that scheme is yet to open, and has been strongly criticised for the limited number of places offered – 5,000 over a year.

The National Wales: This summer saw harrowing scenes in Kabul as people attempted to flee the Taliban (Source: PA)This summer saw harrowing scenes in Kabul as people attempted to flee the Taliban (Source: PA)

To access a resettlement scheme, a person must wait in a refugee camp, many of them severely overcrowded and unhygienic – a camp in Greece this week was described as “jail-like”. The lengthy resettlement application process means that many people feel forced to travel to the UK by themselves, often paying large sums to traffickers to be transported across borders.

Once a refugee arrives in the UK, they can then begin their asylum claim – this route is entirely legitimate, legal and is protected under Article 1 of the UN Refugee Protocol.

The National Wales: Al Hawl refugee camp, Syria (Source: PA)Al Hawl refugee camp, Syria (Source: PA)

The Nationality and Borders Bill would introduce a two-tiered system, whereby refugees who arrive in the UK by this second route may have their asylum claims ruled inadmissible and be deported.

It would also introduce harsh penalties for aiding in “irregular entry” to the UK, penalties which human rights groups fear will be used against refugees themselves.

According to the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants: “The government has [already] been using legal instruments aimed at smugglers to pursue refugees themselves in the courts, including people who may be victims of trafficking and slavery.”

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The Borders Bill would also offer legal immunity to Border Force agents if a migrant drowns during an attempt to “turn back” their boat.

The UN Refugee Council (UNHCR) has said of the Bill: “UNHCR is concerned that the plan, if implemented as it stands, will undermine the 1951 Convention and international protection system, not just in the UK, but globally.”

In its petition, the Welsh Refugee Council calls the Borders Bill “an attack on Welsh democracy,” and calls on Welsh politicians to oppose it “through all legislative, media and diplomatic means possible.”

The National Wales: Harriet Protheroe Soltani, Welsh Refugee COuncil (Source: Harriet P-S)Harriet Protheroe Soltani, Welsh Refugee COuncil (Source: Harriet P-S)

Harriet Protheroe-Soltani, spokesperson for the Refugee Council said: “This Bill is in complete opposition to the Welsh Government’s goal of becoming a nation of sanctuary.

“Welsh Parliamentarians must stand firm in showing their opposition to this Bill.

“We at the Welsh Refugee Council work to empower asylum seekers and refugees and help them rebuild new lives in Wales - we must see safe routes that give people a fair chance to claim asylum.

“We call on all Senedd Members to show their support for refugees and asylum seekers in Wales.”

The Welsh Refugee Council will hold a socially-distanced campaign event outside the Senedd on Wednesday 15th December.

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