On Thursday, 4 November 2021, a cross-party committee of MPs scrutinised and voted on proposed amendments to the Nationality and Borders Bill ahead of a third reading in the Commons. The bill increased by 11 pages but its sentiment towards asylum seekers and refugees remains hostile.

The most contentious principle in the bill is the differential treatment of asylum seekers based on how they entered the UK. The fall of Afghanistan and the resettlement response best exemplifies the failings in this policy.

Men, women and children received indefinite leave to remain and the statutory support that goes along with it, as part of the government’s Afghan Relocation and Assistance policy’ resettlement scheme. But if the bill goes through in its current form, we are gravely concerned by what it would mean for an Afghan asylum seeker who comes to the UK via their own means, having travelled through Pakistan and Europe via boat or lorry. That is, Home Office officials:

  • will have the power to remove them without a fair hearing;
  • will have the power to restrict statutory support pending the outcome of an asylum claim; and
  • could decide not to provide suitable accommodation.

This cannot be right. We believe the creation of a two-tier asylum system is inhumane and is hostile towards those in need of our care and support, particularly those who have fled religious persecution and conflict. It is frequently those at greatest risk who resort to the most dangerous routes, so these very people who are likely to be in particular need of refuge are discriminated against.


According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 82.4m people worldwide were forcibly displaced at the end of December 2020. Only compassion and long-term policy solutions will solve this crisis and equip future generations to respond effectively.

Parliament has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to establish a new asylum, refugee and immigration legal system that leads the world in its treatment of asylum seekers and refugees. This bill should be explicit in setting out what financial investment there will be to local authorities to better support asylum seekers, and it should set out policy framework that improves resettlement and integration.

Experts believe the bill fails to protect the most vulnerable

Since the bill was first introduced into parliament, it has been met with strong opposition and growing concerns from leading experts in immigration and asylum policy:

  • the Anti-Slavery Commissioner Dame Sara Thornton expressed concerns at the lack of detail on provisions for children”;
  • during the committee evidence stage the UNHCR said, the bill will cause significant suffering to people who are guilty of nothing more than seeking asylum in the UK”; and
  • 12 Church of England bishops published a letter in the Guardian stating the bill’s turn-back policy will endanger the lives of those attempting channel crossings”.

These are three examples among many questioning the bill’s workability and the fairness of the system to protect and support those in need of asylum. We urge MPs from across the House to carefully reconsider the details of the bill and its policy intentions towards those seeking asylum.

What exactly needs to change?

We are encouraging our members to write to their MPs, sharing the above concerns and proposing specific amendments to the bill. Those amendments are:

  • That the differential treatment of refugees clause in the bill be removed in its entirety.

Clause 11 undermines the right to seek asylum” as set out in the UN Refugee Convention. Instead of these restrictive measures which make it harder for people who are genuinely in need of refuge to seek asylum in the UK, the government should focus on creating more safe and legal routes for people experiencing persecution to seek safety in the UK.

  • That the government review accommodation facilities and provide local authorities with safety measures and guidance to ensure high quality of facilities.

In January earlier this year, we wrote about the poor accommodation facilities at a disused army base in Penally, Wales. There were not only reports of uncleanliness and poor mental health but also limited freedom of movement for the men housed there. Penally is not an isolated incident but a common experience for children, women and the clinically vulnerable seeking refuge.

Clause 12, section 6 should be amended to meet the above objectives.

  • That the Home Office publish a list of safe third countries for parliament to scrutinise and vote on ahead of Royal Assent.

We are very concerned by the possibility of a person being sent to a safe country” where they would not have the same freedoms to practise their religion and other beliefs.

Clause 15 does not confirm which countries the government has bilateral agreement with, and until it does, parliament cannot guarantee that an individual’s right to life, freedom of thought, conscience and religious belief are protected.

"I agree that our asylum and immigration system need reform. But the bill must serve two purposes. One, to uphold our commitment as signatories to the Refugee Convention and secondly, to develop a new system that protects the dignity of all people."
Paul Butler 2
The Rt Revd Paul Butler
(Bishop of Durham)

The church is actively engaged on this issue

Beyond Westminster, I have spoken with church leaders, Christian organisations and volunteers involved in supporting refugees and asylum seekers. Welcome Churches operates the Welcome Network with over 700 churches across the UK proactively offering a welcome to refugees and asylum seekers. This year, Welcome Network churches have welcomed over 5,500 people from across the world, offering support, hospitality, and community.

In Pembrokeshire Wales, Rob James (Evangelical Alliance Wales’ executive chair) was one of the leading figures in supporting the resettlement of over 100 men from West Asia and north-east Africa last year. He continues to mobilise political engagement from local MPs and the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner Dyfed-Powys in their ongoing strategy to support and better integrate refugees in Wales.

In speaking with these individuals and others, the recurring issue is a lack of joined-up working between national government and local authorities. This gap in policy is reinforced in the bill. We are concerned that the bill enables statutory services to withhold suitable accommodation, leaving individuals destitute, unable to access financial support and therefore vulnerable to exploitation.

It is the role of government to propose legislation and it is the job of parliament to ensure the government is held to account. Together they are entrusted with the responsibility to establish a system where those seeking asylum are supported in making an application and protected against exploitation. If not parliament, then who will advocate for asylum seekers?

At the Evangelical Alliance, we are committed to working towards systems and structures across our society that value and provide dignity to all people. The advocacy team will be following closely and working collaboratively with MPs and members from the House of Lords as the bill moves through parliament.