SEND A MESSAGE: Beach protest over ‘anti-refugee’ bill
A protest on King Edward's Bay beach in Tynemouth against the Nationality and Borders Bill, Image: Katie Bryson
Protesters gathered in Tynemouth on Wednesday to send a message to ministers over a “cruel and inhumane” bill which could criminalise refugees who do not enter the UK by official channels.
Campaigners formed a giant heart on King Edward’s Bay beach around the words ‘together with refugees’, in a stand against the Government’s proposed Nationality and Borders Bill.
If the draft legislation is made law by parliament, it would mean that anyone arriving into the country through an illegal route, such as via boats crossing the Channel, could face up to four years in prison.
Dozens of North East campaign groups signed a pledge this week calling on the Government to scrap the proposals, which it is feared will “lead to even more dangerous routes to safety” for people fleeing violence and persecution and prevent them rebuilding their lives.
Penny Henry, who organised the beach rally through a local sea swimming group, said: “How we treat refugees reflects who we are. If any of us feared for our lives or for our loved ones, we would want to know that others would help us to safety.”
Hannah Barnes, director of Newcastle’s West End Refugee Service (WERS), has warned that the bill “takes away the basic right for people to seek asylum in the UK”.
She added: “It makes judgments about an individual’s right to live safely based on the journey that individual has to make, and in doing so it will criminalise people fleeing persecution. WERS has supported people in this situation for over 20 years and we have never seen the basic rights of the people we work to support being threatened at this level.”
“There is a huge disconnect between the outpouring of support, warmth, and compassion towards refugees that we see from communities across the North East, and the Government’s cruel and inhumane approach.”
The campaign against the bill, backed by more than 50 groups and individuals from across the region this week, also has the support of North of Tyne mayor Jamie Driscoll.
The Labour mayor also spoke out against plans to turn the former Medomsley prison into a detention centre for women threatened with deportation.
He said: “I stand with these groups and with refugees against the Government’s proposals which seek to shut the door in the face of those who need our protection the most. The Bill’s impact is likely to be so severe and in breach of our obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention, that the UNHCR took the unusual step of publicly opposing the Government’s plans.
“We have to say no to the hostile environment, no to this Bill and no to the Home office’s plan to turn the Medomsley site into an immigration removal centre for women. I want to make sure that the North East is a place where refugees are welcomed, where they have the support and resources they need to settle and build a new life in safety.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Our New Plan for Immigration is based on a simple principle: that the right to come here, to settle here and to build a life here should be based on need, not the ability to pay organised criminal gangs to smuggle you into the UK.
“That means building a new system that is fair but firm. Fair by welcoming and supporting those in genuine need but firm by stopping the abuse of the system.”
Words: Daniel Holland, Local Democracy Reporter
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