THE Nationality and Border Bill is one of the most contentious pieces of legislation ever dreamt up by this Tory government, attracting wide-ranging criticism – not solely from those charities who work with refugees and asylum seekers – but from politicians of all colours, academics, nurses’ and doctors’ leaders, and the United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR.

The brainchild of Home Secretary Priti Patel, the legislation is long on ideas but short on practicalities. The bill has been progressing through its committee stage in the House of Lords, and their amendments will be examined in detail when MPs return to the Commons after the February recess.

It is wide-ranging, and includes among its most controversial measures a new crime – “irregular arrival in the UK” – better known as “illegal immigration”.

The Migration Observatory at Oxford University said there is no definition in UK law of an “irregular migrant” or “illegal immigrant", but there are four main ways in which a person can become one.

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These are by entering the country regularly and breaching the conditions upon which entry was granted; entering the UK irregularly or through deception, such as forged documents or lying about the purpose of entry; not leaving the country after an application for asylum has been rejected and all avenues of appeal exhausted; being born in the UK to parents who are irregular migrants – because the UK does not have birthright citizenship.

UNDER the new law, irregular migrants will include those who try to get to the UK by boat, for instance by crossing the English Channel, which includes refugees and asylum seekers who in many cases are fleeing problems such as war, terrorism or persecution in their homeland.

For this “crime” they could be jailed for up to four years, at an estimated annual cost of more than £400 million.

Patel, whose own parents were migrants, is also known to be an advocate of offshore processing centres – another idea that has been widely condemned.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) policy and advocacy manager, Zoe Gardner, said there had been no economic impact assessment of the bill from the Government, but there were clearly numerous measures that would have a “very significant economic cost”.

She wrote on the JCWI blog: “The Refugee Council has estimated that the imprisonment of asylum seekers for the new crime of irregular arrival in the UK would cost over £400 million per year.

“The cost of proposals to detain asylum seekers offshore has been estimated – based on the amount spent on similar endeavours by the Australian state – by Detention Action to be in excess of £8 billion per year.”

She said the bill proposes “sweeping changes” to the UK asylum system, but lacks detail in many areas, giving Patel “a huge amount of discretion over how many key proposals will be put into practice”.

Gardner said the bill was an attack on the fundamental principles of refugee protection, and Patel was giving herself new powers which she had not yet decided how to use. These represented a “threat to the checks and balances we rely on for our democracy to function”.

She added: “The bill will see more asylum seekers thrown in prison, held in detention centres, removed to other countries – and if they ever manage to get refugee status, they will have fewer rights.”

However, the JCWI said nothing was inevitable and they have called for support against the “cruel and inhumane anti-refugee bill” at a demonstration planned for Parliament Square in London, on February 21.

MP Anne McLaughlin, the SNP’s shadow spokesperson on Asylum and Immigration (below), told The Sunday National the bill the Tories are forcing through Parliament would punish vulnerable individuals seeking safety on our shores.

The National: Picture Nick Ponty 25/1/16.Anne McLaughlin MP is encouraging local residents to give ideas about uses for many derelict sites in the community. She is also looking for an assistant to help with a three month project looking into the problem...

She said: “We have some of the most restrictive family reunion rights in Europe, which have only become more restrictive post Brexit – the Afghan Resettlement and Assistance Policy has recently narrowed its criteria to make it even harder for applicants to qualify, and the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme is taking no new applications this year, leaving some of those who worked with the British Government in serious danger.

“This forces people to take unsafe routes and put themselves at the mercy of people smugglers.

“In fact, this bill will only act to enrich these criminals who the UK Government claim to be cracking down on.

“It’s clear that the UK Government can’t be trusted to create a humane policy to support refugees and asylum seekers and that their inclination towards intentional cruelty is totally at odds with the views of Scotland.

“My visit to Napier Barracks was a glimpse into the dreadful conditions experienced by these people, which would only be made worse with offshore processing of asylum applications.

“We have clear evidence from Australia that cruelty as a deterrence does not work – it is expensive and more importantly, it ends up with the torture and death of people we should be helping.”

THE UNHCR said the bill would create two grades of refugees in the UK – Group 1 and Group 2, with only those meeting “specific additional requirements” being considered for Group 1 status.

They added: “UNHCR reiterates that the attempt to create two different classes of recognised refugees is inconsistent with the Refugee Convention and has no basis in international law.”

Head of policy, communications and communities at the Scottish Refugee Council, Gary Christie, said the anti-refugee bill was simply the biggest threat to refugee rights the United Kingdom has seen for decades.

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“People who need to seek safety are most often forced to flee their countries via whichever route they possibly can, without seeking prior permission,” he said.

“The United Nations Refugee Convention recognises this, and stipulates that no person seeking protection should be punished for the way they had to make their journey.

“This bill flagrantly disregards this. In doing so, the United Kingdom will close the door to vulnerable people fleeing war, terror and oppression who are only looking to rebuild their lives in safety.

He continued: “This is an appalling piece of legislation.”