Entering its final stages on Monday 3 December, the Counter Terrorism and Border Security Bill will introduce a new provision which gives the Home Secretary the power to designate a country, or region of a country, and make it an offence for UK nationals and residents to enter or remain in this area. On return to the UK, an individual such as a peacebuilder, aid worker, journalist or development researcher could be investigated by the police. If they are charged with this offence and are unable to prove that they had a “reasonable excuse for entering, or remaining in, the designated area”, the individual could receive a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
The UK’s leading civil society organisations and House of Lord peers from all political parties and none, have advocated for an amendment to the bill which would exempt aid workers and journalists. However, efforts have failed which means British people working from NGOs and humanitarian agencies, as well as development academics and journalists, could risk investigation by the police. Ultimately, the bill will weaken efforts to provide urgent aid and relief to people affected by conflict.
Executive Director of Conciliation Resources, Jonathan Cohen has joined eighteen other CEOs in support of the amendment. They have said:
We are concerned that the Counter Terrorism and Border Security Bill would in effect make it a criminal offence for British aid workers to provide support to vulnerable people in war-torn countries. Unless urgently amended, the bill will fail to provide sufficient protection for people who already risk their lives to help others and could instead mean they face police interrogation and arrest on their return, even with the changes proposed by the government this week.
This is simply unacceptable and will make it impossible for civil society organisations to deliver much needed humanitarian, development and peacebuilding support to people desperately in need.
If the UK is to continue to assist women and children struggling to survive conflict, and preserve our position as one of the world’s leading providers of humanitarian and development assistance, it is vital that the government and peers amend the bill so that it exempts aid workers and others with a legitimate reason to travel to designated areas. Time is running out to ensure aid workers, academics, journalists and anyone else with legitimate reasons to travel to insecure countries, are not adversely affected by this bill.
Although we would be pleased to see an exemption which specifically references humanitarian aid in the bill, we believe that peacebuilding must also be included to provide adequte protection to people working for peacebuilding NGOs who may need to travel to conflict-affected designated areas.
In signing this statement, Conciliation Resources joins other peacebuilding organisations including International Alert, Saferworld and Peace Direct, as well as humanitarian NGOs including WaterAid, Tearfund and Oxfam.