Executive Office says it could be harmful to all migrants and race relations here
The First and Deputy First Ministers have voiced criticism of the Home Office’s new immigration bill, saying it creates an “unhelpful two-tier system” which could give rise to the perception that asylum seekers “do not have the right to be here”.
Currently progressing through the House of Lords, the Nationality and Borders Bill would see the UK Government no longer having to inform people that it is removing their citizenship. This has led to fears that ethnic minorities could be treated differently to white Britons for committing the same crime.
The Bill would also make it a criminal offence to enter the UK illegally and would introduce life sentences for people traffickers.
Critics, however, say tougher measures would not stop people from making dangerous journeys to the UK.
The First and Deputy First Ministers were recently asked for their assessment of whether the Bill will be detrimental to race relations.
They said: “We acknowledge the value of migration to our economy, culture and wider society. Consequently, although immigration is not a devolved matter, our officials continue to engage with Home Office on the New Plan for Immigration and the associated Nationality and Borders Bill which is being progressed post-EU withdrawal.
“While aspects of the new arrangements such as enhancement of resettlement are welcomed, the main changes are concerning particularly the impacts on those arriving spontaneously outside of a designated ‘safe and legal’ route.
“This creates an unhelpful two-tier system and could give rise to the misperception that those seeking asylum do not have the right to be here. Such misperceptions could be harmful to all migrants and to race relations. We have written to the Prime Minister urging engagement on how best to help those fleeing persecution regardless of how they arrive here and so avoid a two-tier system.”
SDLP MLA Colin McGrath said the UK’s departure from the EU was fuelled by right-wing Brexiteers, including the DUP and it was roundly rejected by the people of Northern Ireland”.
“We cannot allow this to embolden the attitudes of some who would want to make people from certain ethnic groups feel unwelcome in the North and threaten the diversity that has contributed so much to our island,” he said.
“The British Government’s Nationality and Borders Bill is abhorrent and is designed to make it as difficult as possible for people fleeing the most unimaginable situations to seek refuge in Britain and the North. It does create a two-tier system and SDLP MPs have flagged this on numerous occasions at Westminster and will continue to fight this legislation.
“It could result in a situation where those seeking asylum are prevented from reuniting with their families and able to access much needed support after being forced to abandon their homes.
“We need to send a message from all sections of our society that people seeking refuge are welcome here.”
Alliance MP Stephen Farry added: “This Bill seeks to criminalise those fleeing war and persecution, while making the asylum system even more challenging to navigate. It is a stain on this Government, dehumanising vulnerable people who have every right to claim asylum in the UK.”