Bristol City Council is to call on the government to improve support for Ukrainian refugees and throw out a law that will criminalise asylum seekers based on how they travel to the UK.
The Labour group has tabled a motion to full council condemning Putin’s invasion, supporting tough sanctions, welcoming people fleeing their homeland and supporting Russian citizens who protest their leader’s regime.
It calls on city council party leaders to write to the government to ask for the Nationality and Borders Bill, which is going through Parliament, to be scrapped. The motion is likely to be heard at full council next Tuesday.
The legislation is currently in the House of Lords who have rejected a clause that would criminalise refugees who arrive in the UK by an “irregular” journey rather than those who arrive through official resettlement schemes.
It would mean anyone travelling by an unsanctioned route, such as a small boat across the English Channel, could have their application ruled as inadmissible, be jailed for up to four years and have family banned from joining them.
‘Bristol has a role to play in offering refuge’
Labour’s silver motion, tabled by councillors Marley Bennett and Farah Hussain, and stands a good chance of gaining cross-party support as it is very similar to a motion by Green Councillor Mohamed Makawi, which itself is unlikely to be debated because of time limits.
Conservative Councillor John Goulandris, meanwhile, has proposed that Bristol twins with a Ukrainian city when possible.
Speaking about his Labour motion, which would also commit the local authority to use its resources to support drives providing aid to the half-a-million refugees forced to leave Ukraine, Councillor Bennett said: “We condemn Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in the strongest possible terms.
“Our motion commits Bristol City Council to supporting Ukraine by aiding Ukrainians displaced by conflict, backing the strongest possible sanctions against Russia and supporting the Russians bravely protesting Putin’s regime.
“It’s a disgrace that the UK Home Office has only provided visas to 50 Ukrainians so far – we can and should do more.
“As a City of Sanctuary, we recognise Bristol has a role to play in offering refuge to anyone fleeing violence and persecution.
“These values are clearly incompatible with the government’s Nationality and Borders Bill which would criminalise people who travel to the UK to claim asylum via an ‘irregular’ route, in breach of our obligations under international law.
“Passing this motion would demonstrate Bristol City Council opposes the Home Office’s anti-refugee agenda.”
The bill ‘undermines the right to seek safety’
The proposal also calls on Westminster to pass laws allowing more refugees to be granted asylum in Britain while giving councils extra money to support them.
Cllr Makawi’s Green motion brands the government legislation an “anti-refugee bill” that “undermines the right to seek safety” and calls on it to be thrown out.
His proposal would commit the council to review its housing, social care and education policies to ensure the city helps asylum seekers as much as possible.
Speaking about his motion for Bristol to twin with a city in Ukraine, Tory Cllr Goulandris said: “We utterly condemn the illegal war of aggression that has been unleashed by President Putin.
“During times like this, it is always difficult to know what can be done at a local level to help the innocent victims of this senseless tragedy.
“The government is taking a prominent role in coordinating efforts by the international community to condemn Russia, impose economic sanctions and provide practical military assistance and humanitarian aid.
“It is vital that the West stands with Ukraine in its fight to uphold shared values of freedom, democracy and self-determination.
“But words and deeds are also powerful tools and so we should try to demonstrate empathy by formalising stronger ties with an Ukrainian city at the earliest possible juncture.”