Opinion | Hate Thy Neighbour? New UK Bill Takes a Hardline Stance on Illegal Migration

”In the United Kingdom, HL Bill 133 is slowly but surely passing each stage of the legislative process. It passed through the House of Commons and is now at the committee stage in the House of Lords.  After passing through the House of Commons, the House of Lords can only delay, not veto, most bills from becoming law. This process is normal and abides by the rule of law. However, HL Bill 133 is likely illegal— it’s one of the harshest migration bills to be proposed in Europe. When passed, this Bill will be another black mark on the UK after Brexit has already begun to fortify the nation’s walls against outsiders.

What is Bill 262? 

In 2022, 45,755 people crossed the English Channel in small boats, with official estimates predicting 2023 will see 80,000 migrants attempt the cross. Rishi Sunak, the UK Prime Minister, has bolstered his campaign with promises to tighten migration laws and to end the small boat crisis once and for all. Accordingly, Sunak introduced Bill 262 (now HL Bill 133), also known as the ‘Illegal Migration Bill’. The first page of the Bill opens with a statement from Home Secretary Suella Braverman: “I am unable to make a statement that, in my view, the provisions of the Illegal Migration Bill are compatible with the Convention rights, but the Government nevertheless wishes the House to proceed with the Bill.” This precedent is demonstrative of what the Bill entails; clauses are in contradiction with human rights law and undergirded by racism.

“Protester from the March Against Racism in London. “Suella Braverman” by Alisdare Hickson is licenced under CC BY-SA 2.0.”

The Bill would mandate that everyone arriving in the UK via irregular travel, like small boats, will be detained for 28 days. Asylum seekers will also be deemed inadmissible if they are travelling irregularly to the UK, even if they are from war-torn countries or face prosecution elsewhere. Asylum seekers would then be sent back to their countries of origin or, in what UK officials were calling the “global route”, migrants would be sent to Rwanda. However, this has been put on hold as human rights groups took the issue to court, fighting on the grounds of human rights violation. Another worrying clause includes the detention of families with children who enter the UK illegally, which would overturn legislation that prohibits children from being detained in refugee centers.

Exacerbating the UK Migrant Crisis 

Migrants applying for asylum must be physically in the UK to be granted refugee status. However, entering the country is more difficult for those from the Middle East and Africa because the demand for visas to enter the country legally greatly outweighs the supply; this Bill will therefore be targeting asylum seekers from these regions. In 2022, only 1,185 refugees resettled in the UK, 75% fewer than in 2019, and only 22 refugees came with the Afghan citizen resettlement scheme. 2022 also saw 210,000 visas issued to Ukrainians fleeing conflict — there is no record of Ukrainian asylum seekers travelling across the channel on a small boat.

Asylum seekers from the Middle East and Africa are entering the UK illegally because there is no option to enter legally. Sunak’s Bill will not curtail asylum seekers from finding their way into the UK, just as the denial of visas has yet to stop migrants from migrating across the channel. Rather, the Bill might actually increase the flow of migrant crossings in the short term as asylum seekers try entering the country before the Bill is legalized to avoid policies like the 28-day detention upon entry. Ultimately, the Bill has been called a violation of human rights by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, with the UNHCR claiming this breaches the UK’s obligations under international law. Similarly, the EU migration commissioner Ylva Johansson believes the Bill might violate international agreements and the Geneva Convention.

“Protester at the March Against Racism in London. “Refugees Welcome #2” by Alisdare Hickson is licenced under CC BY-SA 2.0.”

“Protester at the March Against Racism in London. “Refugees Welcome #2” by Alisdare Hickson is licenced under CC BY-SA 2.0.”

Beyond the human rights violations, the Bill itself is logistically flawed. Sending refugees back to their undesirable conditions or somewhere else would be difficult to execute, especially as advocacy groups, human rights organizations and international courts are likely to step in. This would leave refugees stuck in limbo, unable to be removed or have their asylum claims processed, stuck waiting in detention centers. As the number of detainees will only skyrocket with this Bill, the strain on taxpayer money will be great. The government will have to open more centers, and each center costs approximately £219 million a year for 65,000 refugees. The Sunak government is not ignorant of the realities of this Bill which has already begun tarnish the UK’s reputation, strain taxpayers, and, most importantly, violate the rights of thousands of asylum seekers. However, the Bill itself is more of a performative act, and it is working; Sunak has received praise from the far-right across Europe. This Bill could be a way for Sunak to establish himself as the new PM, with the extremity of the legislation garnering him the same Trump-like reputation that his predecessor Boris Johnson had.

A Conservative Future for the UK 

Brexit regressed the UK, and the Illegal Migration Bill is only going to exacerbate this. As a nation that prides itself on being a protector of human rights, especially with its condemnation of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, this Bill is demonstrative of hypocrisy within the UK immigration system. The UK is showing it will only help those in need when it benefits them. Accepting Ukrainian migrants into the UK is a sign of Western resolve against Russia and therefore deemed important, while other migrants who are deemed a burden on the system wrongly go uncared for. The Bill will also entrench conservative values into law that could trickle down into the populace causing racism toward non-white refugees and an acceptance of exclusionary migration policies. The Sunak government would be better served to reform immigration laws to accommodate the increase in illegal asylum seekers by providing alternative, legal paths of entry.

Featured Image: “Prime Minister Rishi Sunak Arrives In Downing Street” by Prime Minister’s Office is licenced under Open Government Licence v3.0.

Edited by Alison Lee.