Asylum seekers reaching the United Kingdom in small boats could soon undergo searches under the draconian Schedule 7 counter-terrorism powers set to be extended by the government’s contentious Nationality and Borders Bill.
The Bill represents one of the biggest attacks on the rights of refugees, migrants, Muslims, people of color, and LGBT+ people seeking sanctuary in Britain.
Schedule 7 Powers currently allow the police and border officials powers to detain, question, and search travelers passing through the British ports and airports to check for terrorist links.
The Muslim Council of Britain called for peers to speak out and vote against the Nationality and Borders Bill. The Muslim Council of Britain is the UK’s largest Muslim umbrella body with over 500 affiliated national, regional and local organisations, mosques, charities, and professional networks.
In particular, the MCB expresses grave concern in relation to the contentious Clause 9 of the Bill which gives the Home Secretary unprecedented power to remove a British person’s citizenship without issuing any notice, effectively eliminating the potential for any challenges in court from the outset.
The MCB is also opposed to Bill’s failure to safeguard the rights of those who are seeking asylum in the UK, making the asylum process more laborious and potentially contravening the UK’s legal obligations under Articles 3 and 31 of the 1951 Refugee Convention.
“The National and Borders Bill is an affront to human rights. This Bill appears to be yet another attempt to further marginalise minority groups, whilst eroding our civil liberties. Communities across the UK are deeply concerned by this Bill, particularly in the wake of the tragic deaths of refugees in the channel and the devastation we have seen during the Windrush scandal. Nationality and citizenship are not a privilege but a human right. We urge Peers to speak out and vote against this Bill,” MCB Secretary-General Zara Mohammed had said.
The Royal College of Nursing also sent a briefing to parliament highlighting concerns with the Nationality and Borders Bill. The RCN is urging the parliament to amend the Bill that could restrict access to healthcare for refugees and see nurses forced to act against professional
The College says the Bill “creates additional barriers for individuals navigating the system for applying for asylum status” and could mean more people will be subject to the NHS charging system for secondary healthcare.
These issues could affect nurses on a personal level as well as professional, explained the RCN briefing.
Currently, the UK has 131,640 registered international nurses and the college explained that overseas nurses arrive using several different immigration routes, including as refugees.
“Being openly LGBT+ in the UK asylum system is already unsafe. It is a bitter and cruel irony that we incarcerate people who, in their country of origin, face prison sentences for their identity and sexuality. LGBT+ people already face disproportionate levels of abuse in asylum centres. Government proposals to expand the detention of those making asylum claims will only make that worse,” Olivia Blake, Member of Parliament of the United Kingdom said.
The Domestic Abuse Commissioner expressed concerns over the adverse impacts the Bill could have on the survivors of Domestic Abuse.
Travelers can be detained and questioned for up to six hours under the powers. They must provide passwords and logins for phones and electronic devices, the contents of which can be downloaded and retained. Examining officers can collect fingerprints and DNA samples.
People detained under Schedule 7 powers, including children, may also be subjected to strip searches including “visual examinations of the genital and anal areas,” though guidelines for examining officers say these “must not be undertaken routinely.”
The United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, says the Bill, if passed into law, would “penalise most refugees seeking asylum in the country, creating an asylum model that undermines established international refugee protection rules and practices.”
Muhammad Rabbani, the managing director of Cage, a rights group focused on the impact of counter-terrorism policies on Muslim communities, told Middle East Eye: “This is about criminalising refugees and not about the safety and security of our nation.”
“Schedule 7 is a draconian power and a manifestation of institutional Islamophobia. It operates without the need of any suspicion of a crime and continues to strip individuals of their basic rights and access to due process,” he said.
“If this Bill passes then refugees will be subject to the same powers when they arrive, further embedding the discrimination and Islamophobia of this policy.”
The Nationality and Borders Bill is currently is debated in the House of Lords which will then return to the House of Commons for the final approval of MPs.
But no amendments have so far been tabled regarding the proposed extension of Schedule 7 powers.