Under Priti's Eye? Would June And The Handmaids Easily Claim Asylum In The UK?

Published date20 July 2021
Law FirmLatitude Law
AuthorMs Shara Pledger

In the fictional world of The Handmaid's Tale (book and TV series) a large part of what we know as the United States of America has been overrun in a violent coup and renamed as the Republic of Gilead. It is a totalitarian state with fiercely patriarchal practices and values. Women are split into clearly defined roles within society, including Handmaids; forced into sexual slavery in high-ranking childless households to increase the chance of reproduction.

In the popular TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel, our main character, a Handmaid named June, has been on the run. Having escaped the authorities with fellow Handmaid Janine, the pair have been on a desperate mission to reach a place of safety. June's family and friends are split between Gilead and Canada (Canada offers asylum to escapees). Watching the programme, which to this point has dealt with the logistics of the Canadian refugee system to only a limited extent, I wonder how the UK would react if refugees from Gilead suddenly arrived at the UK's door.

This blog post aims to assess whether the UK would offer protection to Handmaids like June and Janine, and how we would treat them while their cases were processed. Importantly, it is timely to consider how the measures being proposed by Priti Patel in the Nationality and Borders Bill 2021 would affect June's and Janine's story.

The Nationality and Borders Bill has reached its second reading in the House of Commons. Aspects of it are controversial, but with a significant Conservative majority in parliament, the government is expected to succeed. The Bill has various aims, including a key objective "to deter illegal entry into the UK breaking the business model of criminal trafficking networks and saving lives". Critics say that criminalising those who seek asylum does nothing to punish people traffickers and instead erodes the rights of those in need of protection.

Let us begin by considering the proposed changes to criminalise asylum seekers. The Bill seeks to re-draft the existing scheme, and re-written laws would mean increased fines or imprisonment (maximum 4 years in prison) for any person knowingly arriving in or entering the UK without the correct permission to do so. This criminalisation is regardless of the person's intentions, or the legitimacy of their asylum claim once here.

Can June and Janine safely and lawfully travel to the UK to seek asylum but avoid prosecution? Under the new Act, the only legal route would be resettlemen...

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