MPs have warned that Priti Patel’s controversial UK immigration bill could fail stateless children by creating more barriers for UK-born youngsters to obtain British citizenship. According to a report released by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the much maligned Nationality and Borders Bill ‘fails to protect the rights of stateless children adequately’.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) claims that the Bill’s failure to ‘prevent statelessness for children born in Britain represents a potential violation of the UK’s human rights obligations’.
The Bill, which is currently going through Parliament and was recently rejected by Labour, would introduce new regulations for the registering of stateless children. However, the JCHR has warned that those regulations would make it tougher for stateless young people to secure UK citizenship.
Not entitled to British nationality
The Nationality and Borders Bill states: “Stateless children in the UK – meaning those with no nationality - will not be entitled to British nationality unless the Home Secretary is satisfied that the child is unable to acquire another nationality.”
The Bill also says that being born in Britain does not automatically mean a right to UK citizenship and that children of immigrants may be deemed stateless if their parents have been prevented from conferring their nationality on their children by discriminatory laws elsewhere in the world.
The JCHR has called for the legislation in the Bill to be amended so that the rights of children are accounted for and ‘central to any decision-making’. The Committee wants to ensure that UK citizenship is only denied in cases where the nationality of a parent is ‘available to the child immediately, minus any legal or administrative rules’.
MPs welcome other parts of Bill
While Patel’s controversial UK immigration Bill has faced heavy criticism, MPs have welcomed some parts of it, particularly legislation that seeks to put an end to discrimination that exists under current rules that children born to unmarried parents can inherit UK citizenship from them, which they’re not able to do currently.
However, MPs have raised concerns over a lack of clarity concerning whether any fees will be charged for applications for British citizenship under the new clauses that aim to address discrimination.
Chair of the Committee, Harriet Harman, said that the legislation has taken a ‘welcome step’ toward tackling discrimination in British nationality law. However, she did have concerns over protections for stateless children and the barriers they may face to securing citizenship.
Ms Harman said: “The government must do more to ensure rights are fully protected in British nationality law, in particular recognising its obligations to stateless children which the bill does not fully do as it stands.”
Good character test
“The ‘good character’ test should not be applied to children and the government must also ensure that fees do not recreate barriers that it otherwise would have removed by addressing historic discrimination,” Ms Harman added.
Meanwhile, chief executive at the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens (PRCBC), Solange Valdez-Symonds, blasted the UK immigration bill for failing to address the ‘many obstructions’ that stop children from claiming their citizenship rights, describing it as a ‘terrible omission’.
Valdez-Symonds said: “The worst thing about this Bill is that for children born stateless it sets out how to increase barriers to their right to British citizenship. These citizenship rights are integral to the sense of security and identity of all children born and growing up here - and blocking these rights makes children feel profoundly excluded and alienated.”
Fix broken asylum system
In what has become a scripted response, a spokesperson for the Home Office said: “The Nationality and Borders Bill will fix the broken asylum system so that it is fair but firm, helping those in genuine need while stopping those who abuse the system and breaking the business model of ruthless people smuggling gangs.”
“The bill fully complies with all of our domestic and international obligations, including on human rights,” the spokesperson added.
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