Resistance Grows Against Borders Bill

Bristol’s continuing resistance to the Borders and Nationality Bill currently making its way through the Parliament was shown yesterday (Saturday, February 12) as Together With Refugees hosted their third demo since July last year at The Fountain Steps. 

Demonstrators held orange hearts, bright against the drab February sky, showing their support for Together With Refugees’ Show Your Heart campaign. Earlier in the demo, live music from a brass quartet lifted the spirits of the around 100 attendees.

The Borders and Nationality Bill seeks to criminalise refugees who arrive in the UK by “irregular means” such as sailing across the Channel. Campaigners point out that under international law no refugee or means of travel across borders can be considered illegal. The Bill also gives immunity to border agents should refugees die at sea during “push-back” operations. 

The Bill is currently at Report Stage in the House of Lords. As with the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, campaigners hope the Lords will make favourable amendments. However, given the Conservative majority in the House of Commons, the expectation is that the Bill will become law.

Jo Benefield, from Bristol Defend the Asylum Seekers Campaign and an organiser of yesterday’s demo, said ‘whether it’s legislation or not, we have to continue to oppose it.’

Together With Refugees is lobbying opposition MPs to make commitments to repeal the Bill should they ever have the chance when in power. 

This is the third demo Together With Refugees and other Bristol-based groups working for refugee rights have called against the Bill since it was introduced to Parliament in July last year. 

In that time, Jo said, public awareness of the Bill has grown, as has opposition. 

‘It does take some time for it to register with some people what this actually means, because, in a way, it’s so outrageous and so cruel that people don’t really think it will happen,’ said Jo. 

The issue of immigrant or refugee rights has come to the forefront of discussion in Bristol this week with the news that much-loved Big Issue seller Jeff Knight has been threatened with deportation, despite living in the UK for 20 years. 

Asked about Jeff’s situation Jo said: ‘It just shows, what sort of system do we live in? What sort of society do we live in?’

Clause 9 of the Bill, which, again reminiscent of the Policing Bill, was added after it had passed Parliamentary scrutiny, empowers the Home Secretary to strip British citizenship from people without notice. Such powers, critics say, will result in more deportations.  

One of yesterday’s speakers was Reverend Sue Parfitt, the Bristol activist who has recently made headlines after high profile acquittals for her roles both in an XR action in 2019 to disrupt the London Underground and last year to block the M25 with Insulate Britain.

Sue spoke of the connections between climate change and refugees. She said climate change will create refugees ‘more than war, more than any other issue,’ and yet, she added, such climate refugees are not recognised under international law.

Together With Refuges is a coalition of 350 local and national organisations working for a more effective, fair and humane system to support refugees.

Bristol City of Sanctuary are collecting signatures on an open letter against the Bill.

Reverend Sue Parfitt speaks to the crowd at the Together With Refugees Demo. Image: James Ward.
Two people hold a large piece of card covered in signatures and handwritten messages
Bristol City of Sanctuary collect signatures for their open letter. Image: James Ward.

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