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Is ‘Operation Warm Welcome’ at odds with the government’s Nationality and Borders Bill?

Written by
Siso Sibanda, 1 Absolute Adviser
Date of Publication:
28 September 2021

The situation in Afghanistan evolved at a rapid rate: in just a matter of weeks, the allied forces were evacuating citizens, staff and vulnerable people deemed at risk of the Taliban in a chaotic dart to safety.

Although the UK managed to evacuate 15,000 people from the country, hundreds of UK citizens and Afghan nationals have been left behind; many of whom due to paperwork failures.

Yet those who have managed to reach UK soil have been met with an unusual gesture from Britain: 'Operation Warm Welcome' has been implemented to ensure Afghan nationals are adequately supported. This includes immediate Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) status, and for free of charge.

It is certainly a welcome move, but it is notable that this sudden 'warmth' is a far cry from the UK government's usual infliction of red tape for refugees. The UK's modus operandi is to meet each migrant adult and child with immediate hostility, suspicion and a wall of bureaucracy.

Still, the UK's Resettlement Scheme only extends to 5,000 Afghan nationals this year with a larger goal of 20,000 over the course of the next five years. But even this figure pales in comparison to the extent of the crisis. It is also unclear if the spaces reserved on the new scheme applies to the 200 Afghan nationals who have been stuck in refugee camps, and what will happen to those held in detention at risk of deportation. The latest news that the government has refused an asylum amnesty for over 3,000 Afghans in the UK this week certainly doesn't bode well.

The scheme also fails to reconcile with the fact that the UK government facilitated the repatriation of over 15,000 Afghan refugees between 2008 and 2020 after deeming the country 'safe'. (Afghanistan was deemed a safe country right up until the eleventh hour, when the Home Office simply deleted the guidance.)

The reality is that those who are unable to secure a space on the Resettlement Scheme will be forced to seek sanctuary all on their own. Now that there are no more rescue flights, it is inevitable that Afghan refugees will make it to European shores by however means necessary.

Meanwhile, the UK remains ill-prepared and in denial of its obligation to help. For over a decade, the UK government has created a complex web of immigration rules which is hostile to visa nationals, but outright unforgiving to asylum seekers. And despite the Windrush fiasco, countless court interventions and millions forked out in compensation for unlawful detention, the Home Office remains undeterred from its anti-migrant mission.

The world watched on in horror as Afghan women threw their babies over barbed wire into the arms of US soldiers and as men clung to military planes before falling to their deaths. But sadly, such harrowing scenes happen every single day and from all over the globe. People are making impossible choices for their families. Migrants from similarly violent and war-torn zones continue to put their lives in the hands of traffickers and small dinghies to wade across dangerous seas in their pursuit for sanctuary. Others cling underneath trains and inside suffocating lorries to get to safety.

When they arrive in the UK, the Borders Bill will see that the vast majority of asylum seekers are penalised for their method of entry – some even threatened with prison. The Bill only deems those awarded a space on the Resettlement Scheme as 'genuine' refugees. Asylum seekers who entered via boat, train, smuggled or concealed will be treated as criminals. Their personal circumstances and genuine risk of persecution is heard much, much later.

The marginally good news here is that the Home Secretary's plot to criminalise asylum seekers will most likely be trumped by international law. Evidently, Afghan refugees cannot be deported into the arms of the Taliban and only a tiny loophole allows for the deportation of asylum claimants to another European country. And even then, the UK government struggles to pull through on its threats with recent evidence surfacing to show that none of the estimated 12,500 'Channel migrants' this year have been removed.

However, that still hasn't stopped the Home Office from putting asylum seekers through hell first. Applicants are often suspended in limbo for six months or more, struggle to make ends meet on the pittance allowance they are granted and housed in mouldy, pest-infested and unhabitable accommodation in the most deprived areas of the UK. Meanwhile, their reasons for seeking asylum in the UK comes under excessive scrutiny while the Home Office searches for any minuscule reason to refuse the application.

Others are unlawfully held in detention centres for months or even years at a time before being released back into the UK. The Home Office frequently makes incorrect decisions which are eventually overturned by appeals, costing a significant amount of wasted time and resources.

The Nationality and Borders Bill cannot meet what it is supposed to do, but it doesn't stop the Home Office from trying to inflict as much misery and anxiety onto those who have already suffered enough. The Home Secretary is also keen on plans which endanger people's lives with bizarre suggestions ranging from wave machines and 'floating walls' in the Channel to this week's latest assault to 'push' migrant boats back into French waters. This Bill will evidently only embolden the Government to criminalise asylum seekers in a legal grey area at a humongous cost to the taxpayer and, more importantly, human lives.

The demand for refuge is only going to exacerbate in years to come, too. Any fixed quota on numbers through Resettlement Schemes are arbitrary: people all over the world are subject to abhorrent persecution and human rights abuses, and war erupts daily. The threat of climate change also presents a whole new meaning to the term 'displaced refugees', and the UK cannot shirk from its fair share of providing shelter.

It's high time that the UK Government is honest with the British public and reconciled with what it already knows: that irregular entry is not a choice – it's survival, and the UK is bound to protect those who seek sanctuary in the UK irrespective of their clandestine entry.