Priti Patel’s ‘anti-refugee’ bill would criminalise queer Afghans fleeing the Taliban, expert warns

Priti Patel smirking

New “anti-refugee” legislation will make it even harder for LGBT+ Afghans to escape the Taliban, activists have warned.

The Taliban’s new regime in Afghanistan forced many queer and transgender people into hiding, under fear of being imprisoned, tortured or killed.

It is feared that some members of the community may have already died of starvation or suicide while in hiding, or have already been discovered and executed by Taliban forces.

Despite the urgency, a new immigration bill looks set to hinder efforts to help.

The Conservative Party’s Nationality and Borders Bill has already received widespread criticism for threatening to create a two-tier asylum system.

Leila Zadeh is the executive director of Rainbow Migration, a campaign group that helps LGBT+ Afghans flee. Zedah warned of the impact it would have on vulnerable LGBT+ peoples in Afghanistan, telling the Morning Star that the bill “will criminalise people for trying to seek safety and make it much harder for them to secure refugee status and rebuild their lives in the UK”.

Protesters hold placards reading 'protect Afghan women'

Demonstrators gathered in Parliament Square in support of refugees and in opposition to the Nationality and Borders Bill. (Thomas Krych/Getty)

Protests are taking place up and down the country this week against the bill.

SNP MP Alison Thewliss shared footage from a Westminster protest and called the legislation “despicable and cruel”.

In Stroud, protesters called it an “anti-refugee bill”, with one organiser telling local media: “It is a kind of violence against refugee”.

At an event in Glasgow, Becky Macfarlen of the Glasgow Asylum Destitution Action Network (GLADAN) said the bill is the result of “racist attitudes which diminish us as ­individuals and as a nation”, according the The National. 

The Nationality and Borders Bill is a potential breach of international refugee law

Proposed by Priti Patel, the supposed purpose of the Nationality and Borders Bill is to “make the asylum system fairer”, “deter illegal entry to the UK” and to “remove people with no right to be in the country”.

It also aims to “introduce new and tougher criminal offences for those attempting to enter the UK illegally”.

However, a report commissioned by human rights group Freedom From Torture found that the bill breaches international and domestic law in at least 10 different ways.

Under the new bill, anyone who arrives in the UK by an illegal route – which includes small boats across the Channel – could have their claim ruled as inadmissible, be barred from accessing public funds, and even receive a jail sentence of up to four years.

This is potentially in breach of articles 31 and 33 of the UN refugee convention and articles 2, 3 and 4 of the European convention on human rights (ECHR).

The 95 pages of legal opinion from leading immigration lawyers concluded: “This bill represents the biggest legal assault on international refugee law ever seen in the UK.

“The principle at the heart of the bill is the penalisation, both criminally and administratively, of those who arrive by irregular means in the UK to claim asylum and the bill seeks to reverse a number of important decisions of the UK courts, including at the House of Lords and court of appeal level, given over the last 20 years.

“The basis for the attack on irregular arrival is that refugees should use safe legal routes. But there are no such safe legal routes. There is no such thing as a refugee visa.”