• World
  • Jul 20

Why does the UN oppose UK’s Illegal Migration Bill?

• The British government’s Illegal Migration Bill has cleared its long-drawn parliamentary hurdle and will soon become law after Royal Assent from King Charles III.

• The Bill aims to fulfil PM Rishi Sunak’s promise to “stop the boats” of asylum seekers from making the dangerous crossing.

• Once the Bill becomes an Act, the UK’s Home Secretary will have a legal duty to detain and remove anyone entering the UK illegally.

• The UN agencies have criticised the Bill and said it is at odds with international law and sets a worrying precedent. The UN said it could have a deep global impact on the international refugee protection system.

Why the UK brings in such a Bill?

• According to the government, the current broken asylum system currently costs the UK some £3 billion a year and rising, including nearly £6 million a day on hotel accommodation.

• The numbers arriving on small boats in 2022 exceeded 45,700, a 60 per cent increase on the 28,500 who arrived in 2021.

• These journeys are extremely dangerous — people have lost their lives attempting to cross the UK’s busiest shipping lane in flimsy boats.

• Over 45,000 asylum seekers are currently being accommodated in hotels located across 200 local authorities.

• There were over 40,000 asylum applications in 2022 from those who arrived in the UK via small boat. There were 74,751 asylum applications in the UK in 2022, more than twice the number in 2019.

• More recently, the government has noticed that large numbers of people making these dangerous journeys are from well-established safe countries, where it is clear they are not at risk of persecution.

• The people who make these journeys are manipulated by people smugglers who charge them thousands of pounds, before using this money to fund other serious crimes.

• This inexorable rise in the number of illegal arrivals adds unacceptable pressures on health, housing, educational and welfare services.

• The Illegal Migration Bill will change the law so that people who come to the UK illegally will not be able to stay. Instead, they will be detained and then promptly removed, either to their home country or a safe third country like Rwanda.

• It will strengthen detention powers so that people can only apply for bail to the First-tier Tribunal after 28 days. This will make it easier to remove people.

• People who enter the UK illegally will not have their asylum claim determined in the UK, and they will not be able to make a life there. Once removed, they will not be allowed to come back to the UK again.

• The Bill will put a stop to the endless merry-go-round of spurious, last minute legal challenges that are used as a delay tactic to stop those with no right to be in the UK from being removed.

Why the UN opposes such a Bill?

• The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN High Commissioner for Refugees said the Illegal Immigration Bill eliminates access to asylum seekers.

• For decades, the UK has provided refuge to those in need, in line with its international obligations.

• The 1951 Refugee Convention, to which the UK was one of the original signatories, explicitly recognises that refugees may be compelled to enter a country of asylum irregularly.

• The new legislation as it stands requires removal of asylum seekers to another country without a guarantee that they will necessarily be able to access protections there. It also creates sweeping new detention powers with limited judicial oversight.

• The Bill denies access to refugee protections for anyone falling within its scope — including unaccompanied and separated children — regardless of whether they are at risk of persecution, have suffered human rights violations, or whether they are survivors of human trafficking or modern-day slavery.

• Most people fleeing war and persecution do not have or are unable to access formal travel documents such as passports and visas. Safe and “legal” routes to immigration are therefore oftentimes not available to them.  

• Without the adequate operational capacity to remove large numbers of asylum-seekers or create viable removal arrangements with third countries, thousands of migrants can be expected to remain in the UK indefinitely in precarious legal situations.

• This new legislation significantly erodes the legal framework that has protected so many, exposing refugees to grave risks in breach of international law.

• UN refugee and human rights experts say the legislation will also exacerbate the already vulnerable situation of refugees in the UK, drastically limiting their enjoyment of human rights and putting many at risk of detention and destitution. 

• Their rights to health, an adequate standard of living, and employment are all at risk, exposing them to potential exploitation and abuse.

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