A large coalition of organisations working across human rights, migrant justice, asylum, modern slavery, healthcare and many more civil society sectors in the UK have collectively contributed analysis and recommendations to provide this single joint briefing on the Illegal Migration Bill. Its purpose is to collate the insights of the broad range of civil society actors who are concerned by this Bill, making it simpler for parliamentarians to navigate. This briefing is organised thematically, and is divided into sections which examine the implications of the Bill’s clauses from a number of different perspectives. Each section has been endorsed by a different organisation or group of organisations, and a contact for further information on each theme is listed accordingly. Collectively, we oppose the Bill in its entirety. While some of us have proposed specific amendments, our view is that tweaks will not alter the substance of this Bill, nor limit its extremely damaging impacts. We, therefore, call on Parliament to reject this Bill in its entirety.
The Illegal Migration Bill represents an extreme assault on the rights of migrants and the rule of law.
The Bill starts with a statement under section 19 of the HRA that the Minister is unable to say that its provisions are compatible with the rights in the ECHR, an express acknowledgement that the Bill puts human rights at risk. The Bill is also an abrogation of the UK’s responsibilities under the Refugee Convention, the UNCRC and the ECAT.
For most refugees, this Bill is a ban on seeking safety in the UK. The Bill will block almost anyone who arrives here by means the Home Office deems irregular,1 from making admissible human rights and asylum claims. By making the claims of people who have entered and arrived in the UK by irregular means permanently inadmissible, it also makes nearly all these people unremovable in reality, despite placing a duty on the Home Secretary to remove them if they meet certain conditions. This will create a large and permanent population of people who will live in limbo at public expense for the rest of their lives, without any hope of securing lawful status. For those who may be removed to a third country, there will be a new complex “fast track” system, with limited judicial scrutiny, to make a claim that suspends removal.
The Bill gives the Home Secretary wide powers to detain any person whose claim is inadmissible. During their first 28 days in detention, people will not be able to apply for bail or challenge their detention in a manner that would result in their release. Refugee Council predicts that this Bill will result in as many as 250,000 people (including 45,000 children) being detained or left destitute in state-provided accommodation, and that, in the first three years of this Bill’s operation, between £8.7bn to £9.6bn will be spent on their detention and accommodation.3
For victims of modern slavery, who are targeted for removal, the Bill removes almost all protections. It will result in a cruel choice: go to the authorities and be removed from the UK or stay with your trafficker and let the abuse continue. This should never be a choice presented to a human being, let alone be one required by the law. Contrary to the Government’s claims, the Bill will strengthen the hand of traffickers over their victims. Traffickers will coerce people with the threat that, if they escape and contact the authorities, they will be removed from the UK. Moreover, the Bill breaches the UK’s obligations to victims of trafficking under ECHR and ECAT.
For children, this Bill is a punitive and regressive approach which breaches their rights under the UNCRC and will negatively impact their health and wellbeing. Protective arrangements intended for all children will effectively be withdrawn for children arriving or entering the UK after 7 March 2023 ‘in breach of immigration control’. The children affected may have entered with their families, or be unaccompanied, or were born in the UK to parents in breach of immigration control. Those children will be denied the right to seek refugee and human rights protection and protection as victims of trafficking. They can be held in indefinite immigration detention, placed in Home Office (and, therefore, unsafe) accommodation, and will be removed from the UK at age 18, or earlier. They will be denied access to British citizenship registration arrangements open to other children and denied appeal rights concerning their protection and human rights claims. The Bill undermines the CA 1989 by allowing for lone children to be outside the established child protection system, the consequences of which have been shown by 200 children having gone missing from Home Office hotels since 2021.
Further, the Bill’s net is cast far wider than the Government suggests. While the Government claims that it is designed to deal with people arriving by ‘small boats’, the Bill applies to everyone who irregularly arrives in the UK, by whatever means, as of 7 March 2023, making its effects truly draconian. Its overturning of well-established common law principles in relation to detention applies across the board, not only to those detained under the Bill’s new powers. Similarly, the power it creates for the Home Secretary to declare inadmissible all human rights claims from EEA, Swiss and Albanian nationals, applies to all individuals arguing that the refusal of their entry to or removal from the UK would be unlawful under section 6 HRA, regardless of whether there is a duty to remove them under the Bill.
Since its introduction, cross-party parliamentarians, the Children’s Commissioner for England, religious leaders, UNHCR, the International Organisation for Migration, the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, the former Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, UK medical representatives and hundreds of civil society organisations have condemned the Bill for the ways it will block swathes of people from ever being able to access protection, support, and justice. Far from addressing these criticisms or even setting out crucial details of the legislation, the Home Secretary appears to be treating the Bill as a fait accompli, through highly-publicised plans to implement the Bill alongside the Rwanda scheme.
We appreciate that the House of Lords will give careful consideration to the Salisbury Convention. However, it does not apply to the Illegal Migration Bill, which was not a commitment in the 2019 Conservative Party Manifesto. In fact, the Manifesto stated,
‘We will continue to grant asylum and support to refugees fleeing persecution, with the ultimate aim of helping them to return home if it is safe to do so’.
The Bill will not achieve this aim. Instead, it will put the rights and health of refugees, children, and victims of modern slavery at risk, and will undermine constitutional principles of access to justice and the rule of law. Further, it will harm the UK’s global standing
Read or download full briefing here.