UK Illegal Immigration Bill is a Nightmare for Human Rights

The new UK Illegal Immigration Bill is being fast tracked in Parliament. It has the potential to set a nightmarish precedent for irregular immigration, potentially eliminating the UK’s asylum system altogether. To understand it better, I wanted to bring together some main points I have gathered from the news, recent reports, and the House of Commons own research briefing. I will briefly cover a few issues: what is going on with the legislation, why it’s hugely problematic for legal and logistical reasons, and what you can do.

The big take away is that there is little time for review of this bill. If you are based in the UK, please go to the links at the bottom of page to send a letter to your MP and urge them to oppose this bill.

What is the bill about?

On March 7, 2023, a new Illegal Immigration Bill was introduced in the Commons by Conservative Home Secretary Suella Braverman. A second reading passed on March 13, 2023. The bill is on fast track to the Committee stage in the Commons, where it will be examined and then head to the House of Lords for final debate. The bill is intended to deter asylum-seekers by denying hearings and protections to refugees arriving by irregular means (particularly by the sea route across the English channel). Referred to as ‘Stop the Boats’ bill, the nickname underscores the fear mongering around arrivals by boat to the island.

The bill hinges on two new mandates: first, the duty to remove those who arrived by irregular means and did not come directly from the country where they fear persecution; and second, if an individual meets these conditions, to refuse to process any asylum claim they make, including any claim to human rights protection due to fear of return. Previous exemptions for children, pregnant women and victims of modern slavery and trafficking will be eliminated.

Incompatibility with Human Rights Law

The UNHCR slammed the bill as ‘amounting to an asylum ban’ and domestic and international civil society organizations have condemned it as inhumane and draconian. Of course, this controversy was expected. The bill was brought forward with an explicit disclaimer from the Home Secretary that it would be incompatible with parts of the European Convention on Human Rights, thus raising the possibility of the UK removing itself entirely from the Convention. This controversy would ordinarily require more intense scrutiny. However, the timeline for parliamentary review is incredibly short, meaning that such scrutiny will not be possible. The rush to get the bill passed means there is little time for dissent.

Beyond human rights law, this bill raises numerous worrying questions. Where people will be detained? Where or how will they be removed to a safe country? The logistics alone present massive obstacles. New arrivals are to be detained for 28 days without judicial review–meaning, they will not be allowed to accessing a lawyer nor leave on bail. The Refugee Council recently published numbers, based on Home Office statistics, that in the first three years of implementation, this bill could lock up close to 200,000 people in indefinite immigration detention or make them destitute through withholding of status. Some 40,000 of these individuals would be children. That statistic includes the dubious prospects of removing thousands of asylum-seekers to Rwanda. The UK currently has immigration detention facilities for 3,000, thus the bill would require massive investment and building of new detainment facilities. Then there is the financial side: the Refugee Council determined that the bill is expected to cost taxpayers £8.7bn and £9.6bn in its first three years.

The hypocrisy of “Safe Routes”

According to the International Rescue Committee, two-thirds of irregular arrivals last year were granted asylum, and many more were further able to obtain asylum on appeal (the right to appeal immigration decisions would also be revoked in the Illegal Immigration Bill). Statistics from 2022 indicate that refugees who entered the UK by irregular means were 14 times more likely to be granted asylum, in comparison to those who were resettled by the British Government.

What does this mean? So-called safe routes to the UK (i.e. resettlement schemes) are limited to very few populations (Ukrainians, Hong Kongers, a small number of Afghans). Most refugees do not have any pathways to asylum from their countries of origin. Getting themselves to the UK, through great danger and personal expense, presents one of the few options to claim their right to asylum, a right enshrined in the Refugee Convention.

The misery the Illegal Immigration Bill advocates for is intentional. By removing safeguards and rights to protection, asylum and withholding of removal, it seeks to deter ‘unwanted categories’ of people from entering the UK. But history, and numerous examples from around the world, teach us that immigration deterrence doesn’t work. It just makes passage more dangerous. At the same time, it brings the hypocrisy of the UK’s humanitarianism into ever-sharper focus.

A small action to take

For those based in the UK, you can send a letter to your MP and urge them to oppose the bill now with campaigns fromDetention Action or Choose Love.

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Copyright by RD Medya. All rights reserved.

Copyright by RD Medya. All rights reserved.