The UK Government is currently pushing plans through Parliament which will have a devastating impact on the health and wellbeing of vulnerable refugees, asylum seekers and migrants.
How do we know this? Because MSF’s medical teams have seen the results of similar policies before – treating victims of harsh anti-migration policies around the world, from the Aegean to the Pacific.
We are deeply worried that ministers are trying to import these policies to the UK, and are urging them to change course.
The Government claims its anti-refugee plan – formally known as the Nationality and Borders Bill – is ‘firm but fair’.
But here are five things they aren’t telling you about it:
1. It will cause serious physical and mental suffering
The plans will allow the Government to ship refugees and asylum seekers to detention centres in another country while their asylum claims are assessed, known as ‘offshore processing’, just like the Australian Government has done on the Pacific Island of Nauru.
The people indefinitely detained there have suffered terrible effects on their mental health: one-third of the patients MSF medics treated while working there had attempted suicide, and children as young as nine were found to have suicidal thoughts, had self-harmed and attempted suicide.
The situation on Nauru is some of the worst mental health suffering we have seen in our 50 years of existence.
2. It won't deter people. It will push people towards even more dangerous methods of entering the UK.
This Government’s plans are doomed to fail. We know that punitive deterrence policies, like those outlined in this Bill, do not stop people fleeing war and persecution from starting their journeys.
All they do is cause immense suffering, forcing people to take even more treacherous routes to get to the UK.
You don’t need to take our word for this – even Priti Patel’s own staff at the Home Office have warned her that these plans could do the opposite of what she claims.
Internal Home Office documents say the Bill could in fact “encourage [people] to attempt riskier means of entering the UK”.
3. It won’t provide more ‘safe and legal’ routes for refugees
The Government claims it wants refugees to take ‘safe and legal routes’ to reach the UK. But look at their record and you can see they have spent more time shutting these routes down than opening them up.
They have already closed a scheme providing a safe route for unaccompanied children from the EU to the UK, and family reunification from within the EU has been halted.
And the few routes that do exist only allow tiny numbers of people to come here – the ‘UK resettlement scheme,’ launched to great fanfare at the start of this year, has provided safety to barely 300 people this year, according to the latest Home Office figures. The Bill will do nothing to address these problems.
4. It will punish desperate refugees for things they can’t control
The Government has been clear about its plans for punishing refugees who arrive in the UK ‘illegally,’ insisting that they should use legal routes. What it hasn’t been so honest about is just how few of those routes it has left in place.
In short, the Government has closed or restricted the few legal routes there are, and now plans to punish people who don’t use them – even if they had no choice.
5. It will channel millions of pounds of public money to private contractors
The cruelty of the Government’s anti-refugee Bill should be reason enough to oppose it. But the plans it wants to emulate are also ruinously expensive.
The Australian model of ‘offshore processing’ which the Government wants to follow was recently revealed to cost over £2.3m for each individual refugee, every year.
To put it into context, that’s the equivalent of the annual pay for 70 NHS nurses for each person subjected to offshore processing.