Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made stopping the influx of ‘small boats’ crossing the English Channel one of his key priorities. The Illegal Migration Bill is one of the tools proposed to achieve this goal. Introduced on March 7, 2023, the Bill aims to prevent and deter unlawful migration, particularly through unsafe and illegal routes, by mandating the removal of certain individuals who breach immigration control.
While the Bill contains several provisions aimed at addressing irregular migration, these provisions have raised significant concerns among experts and organisations. One notable provision imposes a duty on the Home Secretary to arrange the removal of individuals who fulfil specific conditions, such as entering the UK in breach of immigration laws or travelling through a safe third country. Another concerning aspect of the Bill is the extension of detention powers to encompass families and unaccompanied children.
Additionally, the Bill disqualifies potential victims of slavery or human trafficking from protection and eliminates certain rights for those who enter the UK irregularly. Critics argue that these provisions may contravene international legal obligations and expose vulnerable individuals to harm. The detention of children and pregnant women, the removal of protections for victims of trafficking, and the potential damage to the UK’s international reputation are among the chief concerns voiced by experts and organisations like the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Following its successful second reading in the House of Lords on May 10, 2023, the Illegal Migration Bill progressed to the committee stage, which commenced on May 24. During the second reading, the Bill faced opposition from the Liberal Democrats, who sought to block its passage. However, their bid was rejected, and the Bill moved forward, prompting criticism from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. He characterised the Bill as “isolationist, morally unacceptable, and politically impractical.”
As the Bill proceeds to the committee stage, it is anticipated that the House of Lords will propose substantial amendments to its provisions. These amendments will subsequently be sent back to the House of Commons for further consideration. This iterative process, often referred to as ‘ping pong,’ allows both houses to refine and negotiate the Bill’s content. Notably, experts suggest that the Salisbury convention, which typically ensures the passage of government bills without significant amendments in the House of Lords, may not apply to the Illegal Migration Bill, as the proposed changes to asylum law were not outlined in the 2019 Conservative manifesto.
Brexit has had a significant impact on the UK’s immigration system. The country is no longer part of the Dublin Regulation, which determined the member state responsible for examining asylum applications. Bilateral agreements with EU member states for the return of asylum-seekers have not been reached. In 2022, the Nationality and Borders Act was introduced, aiming to discourage irregular migration and creating differential treatment for refugees entering the UK irregularly.
Concerns have been raised about the backlog of asylum claims and the cost of the system. However, the backlog’s rise predates the increase in small boat arrivals and has been attributed to the decrease in applications processed by the Home Office.
The Illegal Migration Bill has sparked heated debates across various sectors of society. Proponents argue that the legislation is necessary to maintain control over the country’s borders, safeguard national security, and ensure a fair and efficient immigration system. They contend that the provisions, including enhanced removal measures, are crucial for deterring irregular migration and preventing the exploitation of vulnerable individuals by human traffickers.
On the other hand, critics emphasise the potential violations of human rights and international obligations. They argue that the Bill’s provisions, particularly those related to detention, removals, and the exclusion of vulnerable individuals, could lead to significant harm and undermine the UK’s commitment to human rights principles. Concerns have also been raised about the potential consequences for asylum-seekers who may face danger or persecution in their countries of origin.
Public sentiment regarding the Bill is divided, reflecting the complexity and multifaceted nature of the issue. Opinions range from those supporting stringent measures to control irregular migration, to those advocating for a more compassionate and inclusive approach to protecting vulnerable individuals and fulfilling international obligations.
A legal and human rights analysis of the Illegal Migration Bill raises important questions regarding its compatibility with existing domestic and international legal frameworks. From a legal perspective, it is crucial to evaluate whether the Bill adheres to the principles of legality, non-discrimination, and proportionality.
One key consideration is how the Bill aligns with human rights standards. International human rights instruments, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, emphasise the fundamental rights and dignity of all individuals, regardless of their migration status. Therefore, any legislation affecting migrants’ rights must be consistent with these principles.
The Bill’s potential conflicts with human rights can arise in various areas. For instance, the provisions related to detention and deportation must be assessed in light of the prohibition of arbitrary detention and the right to a fair trial. Any measures that undermine due process and deny access to justice may raise concerns about the violation of individuals’ rights.
Furthermore, the Bill’s impact on individuals’ rights and access to justice should be carefully examined. Restrictive immigration policies can hinder migrants’ ability to seek asylum, obtain legal representation, or challenge decisions affecting their status. These limitations may disproportionately affect vulnerable groups, such as refugees, women, children, and victims of human trafficking.
It is essential to ensure that the Bill strikes a balance between national security concerns and the protection of human rights. While states have a legitimate interest in managing their borders, any measures taken must be proportionate and consider the individual circumstances of migrants.
A comprehensive legal and human rights analysis of the Illegal Migration Bill is necessary to evaluate its conformity with existing legal frameworks. It is crucial to assess potential conflicts, scrutinise the impact on individuals’ rights, and ensure that access to justice is not compromised in the process of managing irregular migration.
The Illegal Migration Bill is a contentious piece of legislation currently making its way through the UK Parliament. It seeks to address concerns over irregular migration but has raised significant concerns among experts and organisations regarding potential breaches of international law and the rights of individuals seeking asylum. As debates and amendments continue, it is crucial to closely monitor the developments and implications of this Bill. The future of UK immigration policy hangs in the balance, with significant consequences for those seeking safety and protection within its borders.
By Mallika Singhal
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