Liberty: initial response to the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill

12 April 2002

1. Reducing bureaucratic delays in the asylum process will be welcome - but speeding the process simply by reducing people's ability to appeal decisions would be an alarming attack on the basic fairness of the system. Restricting the grounds of appeal to points of law only is an alarming restriction that could see people deported despite having evidence that they will face persecution. The justification for restricting some appeals and imposing time limits ignores the fact that vast numbers of adjournments are granted to accommodate the inefficiencies in the Home Office's own Immigration Directorates. They're not sought by the applicant and indeed prolong a process that can cause people and families great uncertainty and distress.

2. We welcome crackdowns on exploitation by people traffickers - but if we prevent people even asking for asylum with 'fortress Britain' schemes such as that at Prague Airport, we risk making traffickers the only hope even for people genuinely seeking refuge from persecution. That can't be right: we must ensure that people who need refuge can access it, and that that we fulfil our Geneva Convention commitments to provide a haven from persecution.

3. The vast majority of people seeking to come to this country haven't committed offences and are innocent of any wrongdoing. They shouldn't be treated like criminals. There may be some justification for improved identification procedures. People who are given permission to remain should have their files deleted from the database - just as an innocent person's details should be deleted from a criminal database.

4. We retain concerns about the level of the proposed language and citizenship knowledge tests - in particular as they relate to spouses. People shouldn't be forcibly separated from their husband or wife on the grounds of a language exam.

5. Re depriving people of citizenship: Once you become a British citizen, you should be treated just the same as someone born here. It cannot be right for the Home Secretary to be able to take your citizenship away and make you stateless - simply, if you commit a serious offence, you should be dealt with under the criminal law. Any other approach perpetuates discrimination against naturalised British citizens.

6. The pledge for new citizens is a welcome commitment to our fundamental rights and freedoms.