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No 10 urged to scrap UK borders bill as fears grow for fleeing Ukrainians

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UK prime minister Boris Johnson is facing fresh calls to scrap or tone down the nationality and borders bill, which goes through the House of Lords this week, amid expectations that thousands of people fleeing war in Ukraine will seek refuge in Britain.

The contentious bill would overturn traditional interpretations of the UK’s obligations under the United Nations’ Refugee Convention by making it a criminal offence to enter the UK by illegal means to seek asylum.

The legislation would also offer only temporary protection to those who can demonstrate their right to refugee status but have entered the UK illegally to lodge the claim or came via a safe third country.

The provisions could affect the rights of Ukrainians fleeing the war and travelling to the UK via Poland or Romania, which the government classifies as safe countries.

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Johnson on Sunday night announced £40mn of extra aid to help relief agencies deal with the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Ukraine.

He also confirmed that any person settled in the UK would be able to bring their Ukrainian immediate family members into the country to the benefit of “many thousands of people”.

However, the government is still set to face criticism for not doing more to help Ukrainian nationals as its borders bill is debated in the Lords.

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Opposition parties, including the Scottish National party and Liberal Democrats, have urged the government to scrap the legislation altogether, saying it “criminalised” asylum seekers.

Baroness Philippa Stroud, a Conservative peer and former head of the Centre for Social Justice think-tank, criticised the proposed measures, which she said would create two tiers of refugee.

“Just as over 100,000 refugees are fleeing war-torn Ukraine, Britain is about to enact the nationality and borders bill that would deny them even the most basic of rights,” she said.

“It is a piece of law that means victims in the harrowing images we have all seen would be unable to call Britain a safe haven and would be held in perpetual sub-refugee status.”

Stroud has written a rebel amendment seeking to overturn an existing ban on nearly all immigrants working while waiting for their asylum application to be processed.

However, the government insisted its legislation would prevent further loss of life in the English Channel from gangs of people smugglers. “We have a shared moral and legal duty to address illegal migration collectively and urgently,” a government official said.

The official added that the legislation reduced the “pull factor” to the UK and would make the asylum system fairer by differentiating between those coming through illegal routes and those using safe asylum schemes.

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Liz Truss, foreign secretary, said on Sunday that the government was looking at what more it could do to support Ukrainians fleeing the war: “I want to send a very strong message that the United Kingdom welcomes refugees.”

The Refugee Council, a leading immigration charity, has said the nationality and borders bill stood in “stark contrast” to the prime minister’s promise to welcome to the UK Ukrainians fleeing war and persecution.

It called on the government to make it easier for fleeing Ukrainians to reach the UK and urged ministers to offer humanitarian visas to allow desperate Ukrainians to come.

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