Revealing another surge of populism within the United Kingdom, the House of Lords has debated a controversial Nationality and Borders Bill, which entails that the British government can remove a person’s citizenship for counter-terrorism purposes without needing to tell them.
Part of the bill could disproportionately impact those from Britain’s Muslim community.
The UK Home Secretary Priti Patel said stripping citizens of their nationality will only occur in “exceptional circumstances,” yet part of the bill called “Clause 9” has raised concerns that the reforms could disproportionately impact those from minority backgrounds, particularly Britain’s Muslim community.
Moreover, Schedule 7 of the bill would grant counter-terrorism officers the ability to target anyone making the dangerous crossing from Calais, France to Dover, England – a route which asylum seekers have often taken.
Although the legislation does not explicitly name Muslims or any other minorities, Britain’s Islamic community would be disproportionately impacted by the changes, which are supposedly being put in place “in the public interest.” After all, many migrants who arrive in the UK are from Muslim backgrounds. The UK government said it could easily strip people of their citizenship should they have a dual nationality to fall back on.
“Up to six million people will live in fear that one wrong move, even just one unforced error or car accident, could see us arrested, judged in secret, and deported. This targeted, racist legislation is an existential threat to all our loved ones, neighbors, and colleagues,” Media Diversified told The Good Law Project.
In December 2021, many Muslims expressed their growing worries by protesting the planned legislation.
In December 2021, protests occurred in London, with many Muslims expressing their growing worries over the planned legislation. A protestor named Fatima said that the new measures create an “atmosphere of fear” among non-white British Muslims like herself, The BBC reported.
“I pay taxes and I love this country, but this government is making me feel like I don’t belong here, it’s making me question my identity,” Fatima told The BBC, echoing many British Muslims’ apprehension that they could become second-class citizens.
Schedule 7 would grant the government new draconian powers over asylum seekers. Within five days of arrival on British shores from any “floating vessel or structure,” officers would be able to detain and question refugees for up to six hours and force them to provide their passwords for phones and other devices. Among other invasive measures, officers could also obtain DNA samples and fingerprints.
Between January 2020 and May 2021, the leading countries of origin of those seeking asylum in the UK were Iran, Iraq, Sudan, and Syria. And more individuals from Afghanistan have tried to reach the country following the Taliban takeover in August 2021.
Many observers question the legality of the bill and the powers it could give the British government. The United Nations said the government’s proposal would “penalize most refugees seeking asylum in the country” and therefore “undermines established international refugee protection rules and practices.”
“The constant framing of refugees as ‘security risks’ has enabled the further enmeshing of anti-migrant and counter-terror laws.”
“The constant framing of refugees as ‘security risks’ has enabled the further enmeshing of anti-migrant and counter-terror laws, as demonstrated by the proposed expansion of Schedule 7,” Muhammad Rabbani, Managing Director of CAGE, a British advocacy organization, told Inside Arabia. “It is a clear example of the government’s pro-surveillance ideology in the driving seat, and it will take us a step closer towards normalizing this draconian power to all travelers, even well after they arrive in the UK.”
“As someone who has been stopped under Schedule 7 countless times,” Rabbani continues, “I recognize that expanding the government’s power is an attempt to circumvent current legal protections for asylum and to subject people fleeing conflict to invasive and degrading treatment in Britain. This is about criminalizing migrants and refugees, not about safety.”
Prior to this, there were growing concerns over how British Muslims have been singled out by counter-terrorism policies. One case was that of Shamima Begum, a dual British-Bangladeshi national who traveled to join the Islamic State at age 15 and later had her citizenship revoked. Critics of the decision argued that there would have been more sympathy for her case if she was white and not Muslim.
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In May 2020, a 25-year-old Syrian man sought asylum in the UK to avoid conscription into the Syrian army in 2017, where he would have to kill his fellow Syrians. In January 2022, the UK Home Office tried to deny him asylum, claiming it was safe for him to return to Syria despite the inevitable risk of torture and imprisonment he faced, The Guardian reported.
Since 2017, around 500 Muslim British citizens were “sent into exile” by citizenship removal policies.
CAGE estimates that since 2017, around 500 Muslim British citizens were “sent into exile” by citizenship removal policies. These are unforgiving and hostile measures from the UK government against asylum seekers. In March 2021, Patel proposed a full blanket plan on asylum for people coming to the UK through smugglers at sea, in lorries, and through shipping containers to Parliament.
While Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed Patel’s plans were “humanitarian,” showing the government’s wider support for such measures, various human rights NGOs, including the British Red Cross, called the plans “inhumane.”
In November 2019, Patel shockingly accused Muslim refugees of faking their religion and claiming to be Christian in order to gain their UK asylum status more easily. The Church of England rebutted these unsubstantiated claims, saying there was no evidence of this occurring regularly. Yet these assertions from UK officials exemplify that there are still more discriminatory measures towards Muslim refugees actively being put in place.
The UK has witnessed a surge of anti-migrant and against multiculturalism rhetoric since the 2016 Brexit referendum.
The UK has witnessed a surge of anti-migrant and against multiculturalism rhetoric since the 2016 Brexit referendum. This has created more challenges for citizens of Muslim background, whether they were born in Britain or escaped conflict, persecution, and crippling socio-economic conditions in their home countries.
While the British government has traditionally followed the United States’ “war-on-terror” narrative since 2001 – which meant Muslims were more singled out than other minorities – the current Conservative government has worsened these pre-existing prejudices.
Europe’s restrictive policies on asylum seekers and refugees have raised eyebrows in the humanitarian community as other European governments such as France, have adopted more discriminatory policies towards what it calls “Islamic Separatism.”
Currently, the UK government is walking down a troubling path. If this scapegoating of Muslims hardens, London’s current migrant stance could indeed unravel any attempts to promote itself as a nation that foster’s multiculturalism and religious tolerance.