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‘The Illegal Migration Bill is not only deeply cruel. But also a shameless attempt to embolden extremism.’

Bristol Refugee Rights, who see first-hand the hardship that asylum seekers are already put through, slam the Illegal Migration Bill as a cynical attempt to inflame anti-immigration feeling in order to win the next election.

Photo: Human Rights at Sea

Opinion

The ironically titled Illegal Migration Bill is an attempt to solve the main issue facing the government: how to win the next election. Clearly the hope is that Stop The Boats will be the new Get Brexit Done.

It is not a serious attempt at dealing with the complexity of small boat crossings or the chronically mismanaged and overloaded asylum system. The Bill offers simple, violent solutions to complicated problems. And the racism is extreme. This government would be content to win an election on the back of the deaths and oppression of refugees and trafficked people.

The government plans to prevent almost everyone who arrives in the UK unlawfully from being allowed to claim asylum or to be protected as a victim of human trafficking. The Bill also makes it mandatory for the Home Office to detain and to attempt to remove every single person who arrives in such a way and to never grant them leave to remain or citizenship. 

It also specifically punishes their children by excluding them from ever gaining British nationality. It removes safeguards against detaining pregnant women, unaccompanied children and families, and grants the Home Office a very broad discretionary power to detain people as long as they like in removal centres that are essentially prisons.   

Unsurprisingly, Bristol Refugee Rights stands in opposition to this Bill and in solidarity with those affected by it. This legislation is just the latest in a series of attempts to deter people from coming to the UK by making the asylum system increasingly punitive and severe. There is no evidence that this works. 

Bristol Refugee Rights runs a popular drop-in Welcome Centre and several specialist advice projects. In recent years we have witnessed vulnerable people being routinely made homeless and destitute, children being wrongly labelled as adults and placed at risk and an arbitrary, painfully slow system eroding people’s mental health and causing them severe distress. 

Despite all this performative cruelty, the Home Office granted 77% of asylum claims in 2022 and of those who were refused, over 50% appealed successfully.

So the same government department that is publicly denouncing the desperate people who arrive by small boat as economic migrants, is also accepting that more than three quarters of asylum seekers are genuine refugees. They also claim that people are abusing the support for victims of trafficking, but found 91% of them to be genuine in 2021

The Bill has been denounced for its dubious legitimacy, workability and fundamental legality – not only by the EU and high-ranking barristers, but even some Conservative MPs. But nonetheless on Monday night it got one step closer to becoming a reality as MPs voted it through parliament.

The Bill is almost certainly in breach of various international human rights laws, and the resulting chaos and legal battles seem to be part of the game plan. It may be that the Bill is a PR event that the government does not intend to implement, but we can’t count on that. If it were implemented in full, the results would be horrific. 

What would the impact be?

There are no means to remove the numbers of people required by this Bill. The proposed law includes a list of “safe” countries, and people can’t be removed to countries not on this list. The majority of asylum seekers are not from “safe” countries and therefore could only be removed to a third country, such as Rwanda. But Rwanda has only agreed to take a few hundred refugees and no other agreements exist.

Asylum seekers from “safe” countries like Albania or Gambia (which are certainly not safe for everyone) might potentially be removed in large numbers to their countries of origin. These removals would be violent and it is likely that genuine refugees would be returned to persecution and harm because the channels for challenging a removal are limited and there would not be enough time.  

The largest effect though, would be to place tens of thousands of people in a permanent legal limbo with no recourse to public funds and no right to work. Having failed to remove them, the UK would have to either detain them or release them and offer them housing and financial support. Basically this would be like the current asylum system, but with no processing of claims, so people could never become refugees and get the right to work. This scenario would create an increasingly large population of people forced to live at the taxpayer’s expense forever. 

The government’s plans would make life harder for not only for the people caught up in this system, but also the charities committed to helping them. We have already seen a tripling of demand for our services in the past two years, as the Home Office have chaotically relocated thousands of vulnerable asylum seekers to hotels in the South West without giving any notice to health services, social care or the voluntary sector, who then have had to improvise a response. 

This Bill comes at a time when the far-right are on the rise. Home Secretary Suella Braverman said: “The law-abiding patriotic majority have said: Enough is enough.” These words echo far-right and fascist rhetoric, and this Bill will only serve to embolden and inflame extremism. 

The Illegal Migration Bill, if implemented, would achieve a new high in disruption and chaos. The main principle is to punish and terrorise those who come to the UK on small boats and through other irregular routes. The other part of this strategy is to tout safe legal routes as the alternative, but they barely exist and the UK has frequently failed to deliver what it has promised, notably to the Afghan people. The Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme has dramatically under-performed.

Afghans make up a large number of the people crossing on small boats. There are resettlement schemes for Ukrainian and Hong Kong nationals. For all other nationalities, you have to spend years in a third country, be recognised as a refugee and then be resettled to the UK by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. In 2022, 1,185 people came through this route

The government has suggested that, once they have shut down the irregular routes, there will be an expansion of the legal routes. But can these vague promises be trusted when the track record is one of unfulfilled promises and dysfunction?  

Safe legal routes are desperately needed. The focus should be on creating a compassionate, fair and workable system, an orderly and effective asylum process and a coordinated strategy of welcome at national and international levels.  

Hundreds of protestors took to Parliament Square to remind the MPs of their legal and humanitarian duties to protect and support those fleeing to our shores for safety. But the Bill passed to its second reading on Monday night in the House of Commons after a vote by MPs of 312 in support to 250 against.

Despite criticism from some Tory MPs, including former Home Secretary Theresa May, and hundreds of people protesting in Parliament Square on Monday night, the bill passed to its second reading after a vote by MPs of 312 in support to 250 against. We stand in solidarity with all of those opposing this Bill.

To support Bristol Refugee Rights’ work providing advice and advocacy to asylum seekers, you can go to their website. Tom leads Bristol Refugee Rights’ Pride Without Borders project and is the legal advisor at our Young Peoples’ Immigration Project, and Calum handles the fundraising and communications. 

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  • You are wrong, Rwanda plan to take thousands of refugees – the “few hundred” is just the first tranche, so tired of this lie being repeated in the media. And, no, most of those crossing the channel are not genuine refugees – last year more than half of them were from Albania, a safe country, member of NATO and EU candidate country. Do not let your left wing bias blind you to the facts – the small boats crisis rates highly on most people’s list of top political issues at the moment. Our system is being abused, which admittedly is largely our own fault as our asylum system is both way too slow and way too generous – the French have said as much, EU countries turn down far more asylum claims than we do. The whole situation is a mess!

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  • The people are getting real sick of this now. We are in the bleakest times in modern history since ww2 what a mess ! Obviously our government is completely dysfunctional a mere WEF pantomine.

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