‘MOVING ON FROM BREXIT: A Content Analysis on the UK Governments Securitization of Asylum Seeking and NGOs (de-securitizing) response’

By Rachel Maughan

After spending time in Australia where first-hand accounts of the treatment of asylum seekers on Christmas Island reached my attention, I became interested in learning how my home country, the UK, also welcomed asylum seekers. Volunteering with a local refugee NGO alerted me to the 2021 Nationality & Borders Bill headed by Priti Patel and the impact it would have on those fleeing persecution. It was apparent that such policy and legislation would have far-reaching implications, prompting numerous charities and NGOs throughout the UK to unite in subsequent efforts to raise awareness and encourage both public and parliamentary action while the Nationality & Borders Bill progresses through parliament.

This triggered my examination into the Bill to understand why certain measures were being introduced. It became increasingly apparent that although deterrence strategies regarding immigration were not new, the timing and reforms indicated that Brexit had a significant impact on these decisions. Namely the loss of return mechanisms and access to the EU database used to store asylum seekers and refugees’ data, problematic for the UK governments’ desire to determine EU state responsibility to return them for the asylum claims process [1].

To reveal how the Bill responded to this, I analysed speeches, policies, and legislation since Brexit and found that asylum seeking was being embedded within security frameworks to justify proposed measures. Notably in analysis, Priti Patel, to whom particular attention was given to for her position as Home Secretary to declare a security issue and invoke emergent measures, was found to repeatedly assert that emergent measures in the Nationality & Borders Bill were to fix a ‘failed’ asylum system crippled by the ‘unprecedented’ rise in asylum claims [2]. While employing exaggerated, distorted, and stereotypical discourses that criminalised asylum seekers placing them as security risks [3].

Additionally, I discovered that the legality of asylum-seeking dominated texts with ‘illegal’ or ‘irregular’ entry into the UK regularly associated with criminal activity at the border or criminals posing as asylum seekers themselves and thus threatening internal and cultural security, and the welfare state. Such was used to justify the use of deterrent and emergent measures including increased use of policing, judicial resources, and law enforcement to counter the proposed threat.

Yet Brexit decreased the ‘legal’ routes available leaving minimal legal routes for those seeking protection, one such route available being the Afghan citizens’ resettlement scheme (ACRS), a temporary resettlement programme. However, under the Bill’s reforms Afghans that cannot access this route would be criminalised for seeking protection while knowingly entering the UK without permission [4]. Thus, subject to one of many proposed deterrent measures, such as the ‘temporary protection status’, granted when a claim for protection is successful but entitlements including family reunion rights are limited while being regularly reassessed for removal. The implementation of which NGOs recognise would establish a ‘two-tier’ protection system; distinguishing refugees based on their mode of arrival rather than their need of protection [5].

Thus, in examination of the UK governments actions towards asylum seeking, my findings showed that despite its ambition of a ‘Global Britain’ glorifying its past ‘history of assisting those facing persecution, oppression and tyranny’ [6], the present reality is a resort to measures that securitize asylum seeking while foregoing any commitment to increase permanent routes. Exacerbating the insecurity of those seeking asylum and their vulnerability to turn to dangerous means to obtain international protection [7]. Ultimately maiming its international obligations and reputation in its quest for independency and control, creating the greatest failure of the UK’s asylum system, its failure to protect those who rely on it the most.


[1] Zotti, A. (2021). The Immigration Policy for the United Kingdom: British Exceptionalism and the Renewed Quest for Control. The EU Migration System of Governance, p.57-88. Doi: 10.1007/978-3-030-53997-9_3

[2] Home Office. (2021d). Home Secretary opening speech for Nationality and Borders Bill. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/home-secretary-opening-speech-for-nationality-borders-bill

[3] Sigona, N. (2014). The Politics of refugee voices: Representations, Narratives, Memories. In Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E., Loescher, G., Long., & Sigon, N. The Oxford Handbook of Refugee and Forced Migration Studies. (P.369). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[4] Home Office. (2021b). Celebrating refugees across the UK. Retrieved from  https://www.gov.uk/government/news/celebrating-refugees-across-the-uk

[5] Refugee Council. (2021b). The impact of the New Plan for Immigration Proposals on asylum – June 2021. Retrieved from https://media.refugeecouncil.org.uk/wpcontent/



[6] Home Office. (2021d). Home Secretary opening speech for Nationality and Borders Bill. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/home-secretary-opening-speech-for-nationality-borders-bill

[7] Watson, S. D. (2009). The Securitization of Humanitarian Migration: Digging Moats and Sinking Boats. New York, USA: Routledge.