THE Nationality and Borders Bill, which has already passed the reading stage at the House of Commons, is currently being scrutinised by the House of Lords. What is most evident for those watching the debate is that the bill is predominantly driven by populist ideology rather than rational facts and achievable aims.

Ministers for the Government in the House of Lords are still presenting a bill that will harm refugees and seeks to reinterpret the application of the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Most galling is the fact that the Government has yet to publish details concerning the workability of the bill, legal advice surrounding its plans to undermine the Refugee Convention, or even a financial assessment of how much this bill will cost taxpayers, after a suitable country has been found that will agree to house the UK’s new asylum offshoring centres.

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Two important issues were raised amidst the discussions in the House of Lords committee on Tuesday, February 8. These two issues concerned the offshoring of asylum seekers while their cases are pending (Clause 28 of the bill) and the reinterpretation of the 1951 Refugee Convention (Clause 35 of the bill).

The first concerns the Government’s aim to remove asylum seekers who arrive in the UK to offshore centres in other countries. Yet it is still unclear as to which countries would be involved in these plans – made clear by the minister Baroness Williams of Trafford refusing to mention which countries they are aiming to offshore asylum seekers to as disclosing this information would “jeopardise UK negotiation with other countries”.

Previously, it was suggested that Ghana is where the UK Government is aiming to house its offshore centres. Yet, in an embarrassing move for the UK Government, Ghana made it clear in a public statement that it would refuse to accept any such proposal.

The choice of country, of course, is of utmost importance to the workability of the bill – yet it requires there to be a country either politically or economically indebted to the UK willing to take on the responsibility (and negative attention) that comes with this task. As a result, there are many worrying concerns regarding the decision to offshore asylum decision making – not least the issue of safeguarding.

If an asylum seeker is outside the UK’s jurisdiction, how can we be sure of the proper safeguarding of human rights at the offshore centre, particularly for those that apply for asylum as a result of their gender or sexual identity?

Aside from Ghana (where same-sex sexual acts carry a potential sentence of up to 25 years), it is also suspected that Rwanda is another country that the UK is in negotiations with in order to open offshore centres for the UK’s asylum seekers.

Although homosexuality is not a criminal offence in Rwanda, there is no anti-discrimination law in place to protect LGBTQ+ individuals, as highlighted in a report by The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The report stated that in Rwanda “there is no provision in the law explicitly prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and LGBT persons are effectively prohibited access to any legal recourse for discrimination that they face”.

The Home Office Minister Baroness Williams refused to disclose any information about this issue and said discussing it will “jeopardise our negotiation process”.

Given the complete lack of openness from the Government concerning its plans, there is a significant likelihood that the UK is planning to send people to countries where they have no proper safeguards in place. Though a popular move with right-wing Tory voters, such a move would be a clear breach of Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), and would put vulnerable people’s lives further at risk.

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Despite these serious concerns shared by a number of members of the House of Lords, the minister Baroness Williams gave vague reassurances that the UK Government will stay in signatory at ECHR, and that somehow the bill is aligned with the 1951 Refugee Convention – though without making any promises to publish the legal advice or clarify on what legal basis the UK is not undermining the Refugee Convention.

With its offshoring approach, the UK is copying the Australian government’s model towards asylum seekers – where people seeking asylum are detained indefinitely on the nearby island of Nauru. Various investigations have taken place into this policy, including research by Human Rights Watch which stated that “most of [the detained asylum seekers] have been held there for three years, routinely face neglect by health workers and other service providers who have been hired by the Australian government, as well as frequent unpunished assaults by local Nauruans”.

Yet despite these shocking revelations, Lord Horam (on the Conservative bench) nonchalantly described Australia’s approach by saying that “ the whole thing was a success” and mentioning that “the offshoring completely stopped the human traffickers’ business”.

However, Lord Horam failed to mention the Australian offshoring approach’s staggering cost for taxpayers and the many breaches of human rights at the offshore centre.

The government minister, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, also discussed the reinterpretation of the Refugee Convention 1951. Though in support of the government, Lord Wolfson showed how the bill will seek to undermine the Refugee Convention when he spoke about how he believes that every state has a right to interpret the convention through their parliaments.

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However, under the Vienna Convention 1969, “states cannot under international law unilaterally announce their interpretation of the terms of the agreement they have made with other members of the state”. This is, of course, essential to the functioning of the Refugee Convention. For, if every state is allowed to re-interpret the convention the way they desire, then there will be little need for an international agreement – as every state would frame their asylum and immigration policy the way they wish.

Where does all this leave us? It is becoming increasingly clear that the Nationality and Borders Bill has not been designed to make the asylum system a fairer system. It is also not fixing the existing broken system; instead, it changes the UK’s asylum system into one of no asylum at all.

Some readers might think the bill is correcting an overly generous asylum system. It is therefore important to underline that this is not the case, and to highlight that the UK’s system is already harsh compared to other European asylum systems. Others might think the bill will succeed in targeting people smugglers.

Yet, again, there is no evidence to suggest that this is the case and instead, as we see with the offshoring intentions of the Government, these changes will put lives of already vulnerable people further at risk.

Savan Qadir is emerging leader at the John Smith Centre and Dr Dan Fisher is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Glasgow