Borders bill will make asylum system 'more complicated and cumbersome'

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The UK's asylum system will become less, not more fair under proposed legislation, the Bishop of Durham has warned.

Speaking in the Lords, Bishop Paul Butler said he supported the aims of the Nationality and Borders Bill in seeking to stop criminal gangs and increase fairness in the asylum system but said that in its current form, the legislation would have the opposite effect. 

"We do not want to see any more people losing their lives so tragically in the Channel, as we saw last year. However, in its current form, the bill is unlikely to achieve either of these goals," he said.

"It will make the asylum system more complicated and cumbersome, be less fair, provide fewer safe routes and be more expensive." 

The bill distinguishes between two categories of refugees - Group 1, or those arriving directly from a country where their life was threatened and they presented themselves "without delay" to the authorities, and Group 2, those arriving via a third country and by unofficial routes like lorries in the Eurotunnel or boats across the English Channel.

The designated grouping will affect how long they can stay in Britain and whether family members can join them.

The bishop said there was "no evidence" to support the assumption that fewer people would attempt to come to the UK if the system is made harder. 

"Indeed, if making conditions harder for asylum seekers had the desired effect, we would not be faced with this bill today," he said.

"We have an asylum system which is set up to establish the veracity of an asylum claim. Let us rely on that, not on the method of entry." 

In his speech, the bishop also called for more detail on the government's promises of safe routes for asylum seekers. 

"Despite safe routes being central to the premise of the bill, we see no detail of them. We will not put criminal gangs out of business without expanding safe alternative routes," he said.

Butler said refugee family reunion offered a "vital" safe route for women and children in particular. 

"However, in this bill family reunion will be, in effect, non-existent as group 2 refugees will no longer qualify. This does not demonstrate compassionate values," he said. 

He also called for more protections for child refugees.

"Children are rarely talked about in the bill. If the aim is to make the immigration system fairer, it needs to begin by putting in place protections for those who need it most, especially children," he said. 

"The bill should be an opportunity to create a fair, compassionate and effective asylum system that works for the taxpayer, communities and those seeking asylum. Sadly, on many counts I fear that it does not work." 

A Home Office spokesperson said: "The UK has a long history of supporting refugees in need of protection, and our resettlement programmes have provided safe and legal routes for tens of thousands of people to start new lives in the UK.

"Since 2015, we have resettled more than 25,000 refugees through safe and legal routes direct from regions of conflict and instability - more than any other European country.

"Our New Plan for Immigration, having already been backed by MPs, will fix the broken asylum system so that it is fair but firm – helping those in genuine need while stopping those who abuse the system."