Image Credits: UCU
Words By Jake Smajie.
This Holocaust and Genocide Memorial Day’s theme is ‘one day’. It struck me than ‘one day’ is the length of the news cycles through which most if not all people get their updates on the state of the world, and it made me think to the day in November when 24 asylum seekers drowned in the channel. This brought, temporarily, some focus onto the British governments Nationality and Borders Bill which is currently passing through Parliament and represents a threat to the integrity of the international laws designed to protect refugees across the world. It struck me as important not just to look back to the time of the holocaust, but to take a moment to check on the health of the international laws and institutions put in place to ensure ‘never again’ could something happen as the international community looked on as horrific as the Holocaust and steps which lead to it. The Spanish essayist, Jose Gasset, once wrote: ‘law is born from despair of human nature’, few laws seem as worthy of this quote as international refugee law.
The Nationality and Borders Bill has been criticised as undermining two institutions that protect people, firstly citizenship, and secondly, the right to claim asylum. This is a cause of concern and represents an attempt to undermine institutions that should protect people the world over. Clause 9 of the bill “Notice of decision to deprive a person of citizenship” – of the bill, which was updated earlier this month, exempts the government from having to give notice if it is not “reasonably practicable” to do so, or in the interests of national security, diplomatic relations or otherwise in the public interest. The UK’s Law Society raised concerns that “allowing differential treatment of refugees depending on how they arrive in the UK would penalise those arriving via irregular means; this is incompatible with the UK’s obligations under the Refugee Convention 1951”. The ability to remove citizenship from people without notifying them is a development on the existing ability of the government to remove citizenship from people with ‘dual nationality’ who are deemed to be a threat to the country. Guardian columnist Zoe Williams explained “Dual citizenship is not a precondition; they can be made stateless so long as the British government believes they are eligible for citizenship of another country”, she went on to reveal there are “5.5 million in England and Wales who fall into this category, including about 408,000 people born in the UK”.
This aspect of our existing constitution’s famous and controversial use was the removal of Shamima Begum’s citizenship. This case raised important questions over the lack of legal oversight of removing citizenship and what constitutes a dual nationality. Her position as a Bangladeshi national, a country she had never been to, is doubtful at best. The government argued her entitlement to get citizenship justified her removal of British citizenship. The vagueness of the government’s approach to the ‘dual’ of nationality should be of concern to many people, as many on twitter were quick to point out that, following the Nuremberg Laws, all British Jews could be considered eligible for citizenship in Israel. The bill also seeks to categorise refugees in a way that many institutions including UNHCR, the UN’s body for refugees, and the Welsh Government argue breaches the 1951 convention on refugees which was part of the international laws that came about after the Holocaust. In august 2021, the Board of Deputies of British Jews released a statement criticising the proposed Bill, explaining: “Many people in the Jewish community originally came to the UK as frightened and vulnerable refugees – some on the Kindertransport – and were welcomed into this country”. Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel wrote ‘Never again’ becomes more than a slogan: It’s a prayer, a promise, a vow’. Essential to maintaining ‘Never Again’ is to maintain the institutions born from despair at human nature, so they can protect people if they are ever needed, ‘one day’.