Yesterday, the government’s ‘Illegal Migration Bill’ passed Committee Stage in the House of Commons. Introduced by the Home Secretary at the start of March, the purported aim of the Bill is to stop small boats arrivals and keep the Prime Minister’s promise that “anyone entering this country illegally will be detained and swiftly removed.”
This Bill would be a humanitarian catastrophe, and it would do nothing good. It has so far passed through parliament with remarkable speed, and the committee stage of the Bill in particular was truncated. Normally, at this point, a separate, cross-party committee of MPs takes days to scrutinise a Bill line-by-line, and possible amendments, in detail before the Bill returns to the whole house. This time, it occurred over two days in the House of Commons main chamber, which allowed for a lot less scrutiny, but many more theatrical speeches.
When the Bill was first released, we published a blog outlining what we knew then and key questions moving forward. We’ve updated this below with developments from the last few weeks.
To recap what we know so far, if enacted the Bill would mean:
- A ban on most refugees claiming asylum in the UK: anyone who doesn’t have immigration leave and doesn’t come directly from their country of origin will be deemed automatically inadmissible to the asylum process, and this means almost everyone claiming asylum, because there is no such thing as an asylum visa for the UK, and even the large proportion arriving on planes may struggle to get a direct flight from their country of origin.
- Automatic Detention on arrival: People arriving informally would be automatically detained, not simply for initial processing, but for removal. The plan would be to detain them until they are removed, and there would be no opportunity to apply for bail for the first 28 days of detention. It has become clear that the expansion of the use of detention will include reintroducing the indefinite detention of children.
- Default towards removal: the bill places a duty on the secretary of state to remove anyone deemed inadmissible. This means that the government will attempt to remove adults arriving informally in almost all cases, to either their country of origin, or a ‘safe third country’. This would create a huge risk of removing people into danger. The only legal basis for challenging removal will be risk of “serious and irreversible harm” in the country to which they would be removed. This will be the case for the majority of people seeking asylum, for whom it will not in practice be possible to remove, and leave them to languish indefinitely in detention or in sites akin to Napier barracks, in destitution where they will face exploitation.
- Fewer protections for modern slavery survivors: Modern slavery survivors who have arrived, perhaps been trafficked, into the UK informally will be removed with fewer safeguards than they currently are – it’s not yet clear what this means.
- Incompatibility with the European Convention of Human Rights?: The Home Secretary said that she couldn’t make “a definitive statement of compatibility with ECHR” and that the Bill would disapply section 3 of the Human Rights Act, which ensures compatibility of UK legislation with the ECHR.
- Asylum accommodation and / or detention in former military sites: The Home Secretary confirmed that more sites are being procured to accommodate or detain those arriving via small boats.
This Bill has huge implications for human lives, and for our whole society. It requires serious attention, and it is troubling that it’s not receiving it. We will continue to keep watch.
Here are some key questions we are still asking:
- How will the government remove people to third countries?
It is only possible to remove people to countries that agree to take them, and the government has not procured agreement from other European countries. It’s only option is Rwanda, with whom the UK government has a memorandum of understanding, but the plan to send people there is proving difficult to enact and would anyway only involve a relatively small number of people.
- What happens to people once they are released from detention?
By saying people won’t be able to apply for bail for 28 days, the Home Secretary tacitly acknowledged that some would be released. Will they then be eligible for asylum accommodation? Or will they be left destitute?
- Will the new military sites being procured operate as asylum accommodation, like Napier, or as detention?
In the former case, though the experience of living there is likely to feel constricting, people could come and go, in which case this doesn’t exactly fit within the plan of automatic, widespread detention. It might be an answer to the previous question, about where people will go when released from detention. Given how traumatic people find Napier to be, this in itself is worrying.
This is all happening alongside the growth of ‘quasi-detention’ and detention in increasingly unclear circumstances – the government has just announced it’s procuring more disused military sites to open camps like Napier barracks.
Today, JRS UK have released a new report, ‘Napier Barracks: the inhumane reality’, which shines a light onto the experiences of people placed in the asylum camp at the disused Napier Barracks in Kent. The report gives insight into how destructive the expanded use of immigration detention and quasi-detention would be.
The Bill is still in flux as it passes through parliament.
In practice, if enacted, this legislation is very likely to lead to many people trapped in limbo here, unremovable, but also with no route to gain recognition as refugees in the UK or otherwise regularise their status. It is very troubling. We will continue to stand in solidarity with refugees and demand an end to this attack on the very principle of asylum, and call for a just and humane asylum process.