Empty Chairs: Accountability in the UK’s Immigration SystemA joint briefing by Anaka Women's Collective and Participation and the Practice of Rights on the Illegal Migration Bill for the House of Lords on its 2nd Reading, 10 May 2023
Our briefing to the Lords on the Illegal Migration Bill (IMB/the Bill) echoes the concerns of many of our sister organisations in Northern Ireland and the UK more widely, on the legal and policy impacts of the Bill. We echo the sentiments of colleagues across civil society that the lack of scrutiny of the Bill within the House of Commons must be met with detailed and careful scrutiny by peers in the House of Lords.
The Bill is highly punitive, and proposes that almost everyone who arrives in the UK to seek asylum will be detained, and then removed from the UK without any consideration of whether they have a genuine claim for asylum. They may, like many Ukrainians, be fleeing war, like many people in Hong Kong, be fleeing political persecution, or like many Afghani people, be fleeing the repression of the Taliban who have recently banned women from attending school or working. However, under this Bill none of the reasons for which they may genuinely qualify for asylum in the UK will ever be considered.
The UN Refugee Agency has confirmed that the Bill is “an asylum ban – extinguishing the right to seek refugee protection in the United Kingdom for those who arrive irregularly, no matter how genuine and compelling their claim may be, and with no consideration of their individual circumstances.”
The provisions of the Bill effectively nullify the asylum system in the UK. This is despite the UK’s proud history of offering sanctuary to people fleeing the Holocaust, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and acting as a member of the international community. The UK is part of a rules-based international order and cannot turn its back on the obligations we agreed to under the European Convention on Human Rights, the Refugee Convention, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Yet, this is exactly what the Bill will do. The UN Refugee Agency has confirmed that the Bill is “an asylum ban – extinguishing the right to seek refugee protection in the United Kingdom for those who arrive irregularly, no matter how genuine and compelling their claim may be, and with no consideration of their individual circumstances.”
In recent days, many of our activists have been deeply affected by the violence in Sudan, with families left behind in conflict areas. And yet this Bill would bar any of these individuals from ever achieving refugee status in the UK if they arrived ‘irregularly.’ As the UN Refugee Agency has confirmed, contrary to assertions by Minister for Immigration Robert Jenrick, “there is no mechanism through which refugees can approach UNHCR with the intention of seeking asylum in the U.K”, they would have little choice but to do so.
Image Caption: The Home Secretary herself has been unable to confirm that the Bill is compatible with fundamental international human rights law
In fact the provisions of the Bill are likely to cause significant, legal, practical and infrastructural problems, which have not been well thought through. For example, the UK Government only has one existing agreement with a third country for a small number of asylum seekers (Rwanda), and will likely need to set up large scale detention facilities to house people until they can be removed, from which access to legal representation and a court within the 8 day timescale the Bill provides will be nigh on impossible. In fact, the Refugee Council estimates that “in the first three years of the legislation coming into effect, between 161,147 and 192,670 people will have had their asylum claims deemed inadmissible but not have been removed. They will be unable to have their asylum claims processed, unable to work and will be reliant on Home Office support and accommodation indefinitely. In total, between £8.7bn and £9.6bn will have been spent on detaining and accommodating people impacted by the bill in the first three years of its operation.”
The Bill represents an attack on the rule of law, removing the oversight of the UK courts on the decisions of immigration officers, preventing people seeking asylum from accessing legal advice and information, removing rights of appeal and nullifying Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking provisions, as well as local schemes set up to support victims of these. It makes inadmissible fundamental legal protections designed to shield people from the overreach of the state. The Home Secretary herself has been unable to confirm that the Bill is compatible with fundamental international human rights law; this is a standard requirement for all legislation passed by the UK Parliament and is an essential one in the devolved nations. In short it is an attack on the rule of law itself.
During the Bill’s passage through the House of Commons, our colleagues in the Human Rights Consortium Northern Ireland, Public Interest Litigation Support project and Committee on the Administration of Justice have flagged multiple concerns about the impact of the Bill on the land border on the island of Ireland, the impact of setting aside the application of the ECHR for specific groups both per se and with respect to the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and on Article 2 of the Windsor Agreement.
We commend the work of Focus on Labour Exploitation and ILPA to produce a thorough and comprehensive analysis of the Bill.
Our full submission can be read here