Creating new perspectives since 2009

UN voices concern as UK controversial illegal Migration Bill set to become law

July 18, 2023 at 6:48 pm

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk [Mahmoud Hjaj/Anadolu Agency]

The UK’s illegal Migration Bill, which is set to become law, is “at variance” with the country’s obligations under international laws and will have “profound consequences” for people in need of international protection, the UN warned on Tuesday, Anadolu Agency reports .

The statement released by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights underscored that the Bill scraps access to asylum in the UK for anyone who arrives irregularly, no matter how compelling their circumstances.

It also denies access to protection in the UK for anyone falling within its scope, including unaccompanied and separated children, regardless of whether they are at risk of persecution, may have human rights violations or whether they are survivors of human trafficking or modern-day slavery.

“Carrying out removals under these circumstances is contrary to prohibitions of refoulement and collective expulsions, rights to due process, to family and private life and the principle of best interests of children concerned,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk, said in the statement.

READ: UK passes Illegal Migration Bill as charities warn of ‘dark days’ ahead

The statement drew attention to the fact that most people escaping violence and persecution, lack – or are unable to obtain – formal documentation like passports and visas. They rarely have access to safe and legal routes. It recalled the 1951 Refugee Convention which expressly recognises that refugees may be forced to enter a nation of asylum illegally.

“In addition to raising very serious legal concerns from the international perspective, this Bill sets a worrying precedent for dismantling asylum-related obligations that other countries, including in Europe, may be tempted to follow, with a potentially adverse effect on the international refugee and human rights protection system as a whole,” Turk warned.

​Limits rights to health, employment

For his part, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said that the UN refugee agency shares the UK government’s concern regarding the number of asylum seekers resorting to dangerous journeys across the English Channel and welcomes efforts to make the existing asylum system work more effectively.

“Regrettably, this progress will be significantly undermined by the new legislation. Cooperation with European and other partners along the routes through which refugees and migrants are moving is also key,” Grandi said.

“For decades, the UK has provided refuge to those in need, in line with its international obligations – a tradition of which it has been rightly proud. This new legislation significantly erodes the legal framework that has protected so many, exposing refugees to grave risks in breach of international law,” he further said.

In the absence of effective removal arrangements with third countries or adequate operational capability to remove substantial numbers of asylum seekers, thousands of people are likely to languish in the UK in dangerous legal positions indefinitely, according to the statement.

The Bill will exacerbate the already precarious condition of people who enter the UK illegally, severely limiting their rights to health, a decent quality of life and employment, putting them at risk of exploitation and abuse, it said.

The statement further said that, regardless of their legal status, all people who leave their home country to seek safety and refuge elsewhere are entitled to full respect for their human rights and dignity.

“I urge the UK government to renew this commitment to human rights by reversing this law and ensuring that the rights of all migrants, refugees and asylum seekers are respected, protected and fulfilled without discrimination,” Turk said.

He urged: “This should include efforts to guarantee expeditious and fair processing of asylum and human rights claims, improve reception conditions and increase the availability and accessibility of safe pathways for regular migration.”

The British government’s highly contested illegal Migration Bill is set to become law after the government saw off amendment attempts in the House of Lords on Monday night.

The Bill, which aims to send asylum seekers arriving in the UK by small boats to Rwanda, was stuck in a battle between the House of Commons and the House of Lords, which tried giving more protection to the migrants under modern slavery laws.

The Bill will now go for royal assent and become law. Under the Bill, the Home Secretary has a legal duty to detain and remove anyone entering the UK illegally.

READ: British lawmakers urge government not to deport child asylum seekers to Rwanda