Illegal Migration Bill
The Nationality and Borders Act (2022) sought to criminalise arriving in the UK informally to seek asylum People that arrive without this could face four years in prison and removal to a safe country, although fewer than 100 people who arrived between 28 June and mid-November 2022 were arrested. The Act has been excoriated for contravening the Refugee Convention and attacking refugees, punishing them for circumstances far beyond their control.
Now, the Government is expected to launch its most draconian anti-refugee legislation yet. It is anticipated that under the new laws, people arriving in small boats will:
- Have their asylum claims made automatically ‘inadmissible’ which means that the Government will not even consider their claim for protection.
- Be held in detention – and this includes children.
- They will also be removed to a third country as soon as practicable, which is in fact an impossible pledge as it requires negotiation with receiving countries, and the so-called Rwanda plan has not resulted in a single removal to date, and neither looks to do so until 2024.
- Be permanently banned from returning to the UK.
- Be unable to use family rights law to stop removal. Thereby causing greater distress by keeping families apart from each other.
As with many pieces of recent legislation around immigration, these new measures purport to halt people traffickers who facilitate the channel crossings and appeal to voters who wish to see a curb on immigration. Instead of highlighting and tackling the enormous backlog in asylum claims, they divert attention to another “problem”, actually play into the hands of traffickers by making it impossible for their victims to seek help, and show no signs as yet of the necessary safe and legal routes.
Sarah Teather, Director of the JRS UK said: “This proposed bill is the latest measure aiming to punish refugees for the realities of being forcibly displaced. Refugees travel however they can and there are vanishingly few formal routes for them. To deny sanctuary to people who need it based on their mode of arrival is grotesquely cruel and cravenly dishonest. Furthermore, these proposals are unworkable and are not a rational response to those seeking asylum on our shores. A more productive approach would be to create safe, accessible routes whilst embedding a culture of protection in our asylum system. As the former coalition Children and Families Minister I’m particularly appalled by the reported plans to begin wholesale detention of children. Once upon a time the Conservative Party recognised that this policy inflicted long term damage on young lives and vowed to stop the practice. If this commitment is abandoned now for headlines, it will mark a dark day indeed.”
“Safe and Legal Routes”
The Home Office claims that there are a number of “safe and legal” routes to the UK.
However, these are only available to people from specific countries such as Afghanistan and Ukraine, or for British National status holders in Hong Kong. The numbers of refugees settled via these routes remain cripplingly small, only 22 people have so far been successfully resettled via the scheme created for vulnerable Afghans.
Other asylum routes only accept a limited number of refugees according to precise criteria:
- UK Resettlement Scheme – opened in 2021 and prioritises those from regions in conflict. It planned to resettle 5,000 in its first year but resettled 1,125
- Community Sponsorship Scheme – opened in 2016 for local community groups to provide accommodation and support for refugees. In 2021, 144 people came through this route
- Refugee Family Reunion – opened in 2011 to partners and children under 18 of those already granted protection in the UK. In 2021, 6,134 visas were granted through this route. The Nationality and Borders Act severely restricts reunion rights for a large proportion of refugees
- Mandate Resettlement Scheme – opened in 1995 to resettle refugees who have a close family member in the UK who can offer them a home. The scheme has resettled about 430 refugees since 2004, but just two people in 2021
For the vast majority of people who seek asylum in the UK there are no safe and legal routes.