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UN rights experts say Nationality and Borders Bill fails to respect the UK’s obligations under international human rights and refugee law


Four Special Rapporteurs restate their serious concerns over the Bill; UNHCR issues new observations

Date of Publication:
18 January 2022

UN rights experts say Nationality and Borders Bill fails to respect the UK’s obligations under international human rights and refugee law

18 January 2022

Four United Nations (UN) human rights Special Rapporteurs last week became the latest voices to restate their serious concerns over the Nationality and Borders Bill.

UN logoIn a strongly worded statement issued on Friday, the four UN experts warned that the Bill fails to respect the UK's obligations under international human rights and refugee law, fails to ensure the rights of trafficked persons, undermines the right to seek asylum, and increases the risks of statelessness.

By penalising asylum seekers and refugees who knowingly arrive in the UK without permission, the UN experts said the Bill violates the principle of non-punishment in international law. The Bill also fails to acknowledge the Government's obligation to ensure protection for migrant and asylum-seeking children.

The Special Rapporteurs added that the Bill will seriously undermine the human rights of victims of trafficking and modern slavery, and it will push vulnerable people into dangerous situations and lead to serious human rights violations.

The experts expressed alarm at the provisions of the Bill that would increase the circumstances under which a person can be arbitrarily deprived of British citizenship. The statement notes that the deprivation of citizenship "has a troubled history rooted in racism and discrimination" in the UK, and the Nationality and Borders Bill will increase the risk of statelessness.

The Bill "instrumentalises national security concerns, increasing risks of discrimination and of serious human rights violations, in particular against minorities, migrants and refugees", the four UN rapporteurs stated.

The statement urges the Government to reverse the troubling measures in the Bill.

The statement was issued by the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, and the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery. It was also endorsed by the Special Rapporteur on violence against women.

Further details of the Special Rapporteurs concerns over the Bill can be found in their earlier November 2021 letter to the UK Government. See our article here.

Meanwhile, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) yesterday issued an updated version of its comprehensive and authoritative observations on the Nationality and Borders Bill.

The 95-page report is available here. It updates and expands upon UNHCR's original October 2021 observations (available here) to take into account the amendments made to the Bill during its passage through Parliament.

UNHCR explained: "Since UNHCR published [the October] observations a large number of amendments have been proposed, both by the Government and by other Members of Parliament. All of the Government amendments have been adopted. UNHCR notes that none of the amendments that were adopted responded to the concerns expressed in its Observations, while some have only heightened those concerns."

The observations set out in detail the UNHCR's main areas of concern about the amended Bill.

In addition, the update adds UNHCR's observations on several new provisions of the Bill, introduced at committee stage in the Commons, that allow for the deprivation of citizenship without notice, or otherwise potentially without a fair hearing.

The Bill has successfully passed the Commons and is currently in the Lords. It had its second reading in the Lords on 5 January and it progresses to committee stage on 27 January.