THE Scottish Greens have labelled the UK Government “institutionally racist” amid claims that Tory ministers are attempting to attack refugee rights.
The party’s human rights spokesperson, Maggie Chapman, has criticised the proposed Nationality and Borders Bill ahead of a Holyrood debate this afternoon on the situation in Afghanistan.
An SNP minister has also penned a letter to the Home Secretary warning the proposed legislation could have “severe and long-lasting impacts on some of the most vulnerable people arriving at our shores”.
The UK Government proposals would allow Border Control to turn away asylum seekers crossing the sea, with officers able to use “reasonable force if necessary”.
The legislation would make it a criminal offence to arrive in the UK without permission and increase the maximum sentence for those entering the UK “illegally” from six months to four years.
The plans have been criticised by campaigners as “cruel and counterproductive” amid fears the legislation could penalise those most in need of help.
Speaking last month, Home Secretary Priti Patel said the legislation “will increase the fairness of our system so that we can better protect and support those in genuine need of asylum”.
She added: “It will deter illegal entry into the UK, and importantly break the business model of people smuggling gangs and protecting the lives of those they endanger.”
Ms Chapman has also insisted that the UK Government policy shows Scotland needs more powers over immigration and refugee support.
Speaking ahead of this afternoon’s debate, she said: “The crisis in Afghanistan has led to thousands fleeing for their lives and it is our duty to help these people.
“It has been good to see Scottish councils open their arms to take in refugees, but there is only so much we can do when we are working under a racist UK Government which is directly attacking their rights.
“This is a Government which already housing asylum seekers in prison-like conditions where Covid outbreaks and mental health crises are rife, but it is going to get worse.”
Ms Chapman added: “The proposed UK Nationality and Borders Bill is a direct attack on the rights of refugees and contravenes the 1951 Refugee Convention by making routes into the UK ‘illegal’, even when people are fleeing war, torture and persecution.
“It is more clear than ever that Scotland must be able to make independent human and humane policy decisions relating to refugees, and reject the cruelty of the institutionally racist Home Office.”
A motion to be tabled at this afternoon’s debate by SNP External Affairs Secretary, Angus Robertson, calls for Holyrood to record “its alarm at the humanitarian and human rights crisis in Afghanistan”.
Mr Robertson’s motion adds that Holyrood “recognises the lead role internationally that the UK Government must play in ensuring that aid continues to reach those who need it” and “condemns the reduction in international aid by the UK Government”.
The Scottish Government will also call on Conservative ministers in Westminster to “ensure that those Afghans who have worked to provide critical aid assistance, uphold democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Afghanistan can be allowed to settle in the UK alongside those who are at risk of violence and persecution”.
The SNP’s Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison has written to the Home Secretary highlighting objections first raised in correspondence with the Home Office by Nicola Sturgeon last month.
Ms Robison said the Nationality and Borders Bill, in its current form, has the “potential for severe and long-lasting impacts on some of the most vulnerable people arriving at our shores” adding that “the current Afghanistan crisis just highlights even further the flaws.”
She added: “Scotland has a long history of welcoming people from all over the world, including those seeking refuge from war and persecution. The Scottish Government is grateful for their contribution to our communities, our economy, our public services, and our future.
“The Scottish Government has set out detailed proposals for how a more tailored approach for Scotland could be delivered.
“It is regrettable that the UK Government has failed to engage on these proposals and that the Nationality and Borders Bill takes an approach which does not align with Scotland’s values or needs, or those of the international community.”
The UK Government has said its Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme will allow 5,000 Afghans to settle in the UK, with the long-term goal of 20,000.
It will focus on women and children as well as religious and other minorities who are at greater risk of persecution from the Taliban.
The Home Office has been contacted for comment.