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Scene from the Sanctuary Festival at Hastings museum in September.

Online public meeting on Patel’s “anti-refugee” bill

The government’s Nationality and Borders bill promises dire consequences for refugees if it becomes law. Hastings Community of Sanctuary has convened an online public meeting to help publicise the threat. Nick Terdre reports.

“This Bill heralds a new era of a hugely intensified hostile environment for the great majority people seeking asylum with us,” Felicity Laurence of Hastings Community of Sanctuary’s Campaigns team told HOT.

“Among other things, it legislates to make it a criminal offence liable to incur a prison sentence of up to four years for any adult arriving spontaneously while aware that their route is not approved by our Government. This alone would cause unprecedented suffering, as well as unbearable pressure on the prison system.

“There is, furthermore, the proposed criminalisation of anyone who helps people ashore – this could include anyone who pulled a dinghy on to land.”

As part of its awareness-raising campaign Hastings Community of Sanctuary (HCoS) is to hold an online public meeting on Tuesday 5 October to discuss in more detail the terms and intended effects of the new bill – widely referred to as the “anti-refugee” bill.

It will also consider “…what we can do to make a reality what a large majority around the country, including 72% in Sussex, according to a survey by Together with Refugees, would actually would like to see – a fair, humane and efficient asylum system,” Laurence said.

“This is a chance to delve into the realities of the proposed Government responses to people fleeing war and seeking sanctuary. We believe that the vast majority of people in our country would consider these proposals as simply ‘going too far’ if they knew the truth about what is happening.”

The guest speaker at the public meeting will be Bella Sankey, the director of Detention Action, one of the main NGOs in the field.

Refugee child’s shoes left on Pett Level beach and saved by Rachel Lowden as a testament (photo HCoS).

“Powerful testimony”

There will also be “powerful testimony” from Hastings Supports Refugees (HSR) member Rachel Lowden about the “heart-breaking” scenes at a beach near Hastings when nearly 60 people arrived in a tiny dinghy: HSR convener and HCoS co-chair Jane Grimshaw joined Rachel in rushing to provide immediate help. An emergency response team has since been set up and has already been called to subsequent beach landings not far from Hastings, Laurence said.

The event will also be an opportunity to “learn about what we are doing here in Hastings to welcome the women, children and men arriving desperate and sodden in the Channel crossings, whose right to claim asylum will be removed by the Bill.”

At the recent Sanctuary Festival organised by HCoS at Hastings Museum, hundreds of people gathered in warm sunshine to celebrate Hastings as a place of welcome for those who seek refuge with us.

Here at a joint HCoS and Hastings Supports Refugees (HSR) stall focusing on the Nationality and Borders Bill those present could sign a petition to local MP Sally-Ann Hart. “The response to our petition to our MP to join us in working instead for a kinder and fairer approach to asylum policy was particularly strong at the Festival,” said Laurence.

The petition will be available to sign through October at Saturday stalls to be held in Hastings and St Leonards by HCoS, Stand Up To Racism and Freedom from Torture. It will be presented to the MP in early November when the bill is due to return to Parliament after the committee stage is completed.


Among the concerns about the bill is that it is potentially unlawful and unenforceable – according to the Law Society “…the proposed changes to the asylum system would undermine access to justice and the rule of law.” In the view of the UN High Commission for Refugees, it also conflicts with the government’s existing undertakings as a signatory to the UN’s Refugee Convention.

The high numbers of refugees crossing the Channel in recent weeks have hit the headlines. This is in part the result of the action taken by the government to prevent them coming by regular means, Laurence said.

And the numbers claiming asylum are no higher than the 30-35,000 recorded in recent years – in fact this year they may be less, as in the first half they totalled 14,670, according to Home Office figures.

The UK is not quite the magnet suggested by some anti-refugee propagandists. “The vast majority go to other countries,” said Laurence. “Germany and Sweden, for example, accept many more asylum claims per capita than we do, and so does France; as mentioned in Pal Luthra’s piece for HOT, we stand 14th among European countries in terms of the numbers settled here.”

 Online public meeting on the Nationalities and Borders Bill organised by HCoS. Tuesday 5 October, 7.30-9pm. Register here to attend.

HCoS is a member of Together with Refugees, a coalition of 300+ national organisations working to oppose the bill and towards a kinder, fairer asylum system.


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Posted 16:13 Friday, Oct 1, 2021 In: Campaigns

1 Comment

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  1. DAR

    Strangely, there seems to be no awareness or acknowledgement that there is any causal connection between what the people in the Hastings Community of Sanctuary group want and what those in the Hastings Rental Health group want.
    Germany & Sweden are geographically much bigger countries: we are losing our recreational green spaces because of the requirement to squeeze in ever more people. Many “refugees” or “economic migrants” – call them what you will – have passed through safe countries before riding the Channel.

    Comment by DAR — Monday, Oct 4, 2021 @ 13:29

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