Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 53 Number 20, July 8, 2023 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Parliamentary Human Rights Committee Warns Illegal Migration Bill is Illegal

Together Let Us Defend the Rights of All!

There has been a growing and substantial opposition to the government's slew of legislation criminalising and dehumanising people seeking asylum in Britain. Under the guise of targeting "criminal gangs", the government has put forward its Illegal Migration Bill, with Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak both speaking of the need to "stop small boats". Meanwhile scores of people - estimates have put the number at almost 300 in the past 20 or so years - have lost their lives attempting to cross the Mediterranean and the Channel in these "small boats", with the Home Secretary nevertheless claiming that the asylum system "is rigged against British people", in an outburst of shocking chauvinism, as though the rights and lives of those people who are in a desperate situation count for nothing.

In a report published on June 11, 2023, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, a joint committee of both Houses of Parliament, warned that the Illegal Migration Bill would deny access to the asylum system to the vast majority of refugees, in breach of a number of binding international human rights obligations, if it were passed in its current form [1]. The report is titled: Legislative Scrutiny: Illegal Migration Bill [2].

The Illegal Migration Bill was introduced into the House of Commons on March 7, 2023. It reached its Report Stage in the House of Lords on June 28 and is now scheduled to go back to the Commons. The Bill has been introduced in the context of a global migration crisis, due in no small part to the destructive interventions of the US and Britain globally, causing war, poverty, and the despoliation of the environment. The Illegal Migration Bill is also being enacted at a time of the scandal of the "Windrush generation" and the racism displayed by the state towards migrants from the Caribbean [3].

The provisions of the Illegal Migration Bill itself severely restrict the human rights of migrants, and include broad detention and search powers, denying protections to modern slavery victims, and removing the right to appeal age assessments.

The Joint Committee report concluded: "The Government is rightly concerned about the loss of life in the Channel. So are we. However, our role here is to scrutinise legislation for its compatibility with human rights law. In our view, it is clear that the Bill would deny the vast majority of refugees access to the UK's asylum system, despite the fact that there will have been, in many cases, no means for them to enter the UK by safe and legal routes. It prohibits the consideration of their protection or human rights claims irrespective of the merits of their cases. It permits them to be subject to detention without time limits, including pregnant women and children who are normally subject to special protections. It renders them liable to removal from the UK, either to their country of origin or to a 'safe third state' with which they may have no connection, without any individualised assessments of risk being undertaken. It also restricts their access to the courts and their ability to remain in the UK while they challenge removal on human rights grounds.

"We conclude that this Bill breaches a number of the UK's international human rights obligations and risks breaching others. The Home Secretary herself has been unable to certify that the Bill is compatible with Convention rights."

Thus, even on the basis of human rights as defined by the European Convention on Human Rights, and its embodiment in the Human Rights Act of the UK, it fails the test of compatibility.

In proposing the Bill, Home Secretary Suella Braverman had claimed that Sudanese asylum seekers escaping the conflict in that country have various "legal" ways to reach Britain, that there was "no good reason" for them to cross the Channel in small boats and that asylum seekers contact the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In response the UNHCR countered that there is "no mechanism" for refugees to seek asylum in Britain through the organisation. It said that an "overwhelming majority" of refugees have no access to safe and legal routes, as well as noting that only a very small number of those refugees seek asylum in Britain.

The government is further considering the Rwanda scheme as essential in delivering the Illegal Migration Bill. Rishi Sunak has vowed to do "whatever necessary" to realise deportations to Rwanda despite the Court of Appeal ruling the scheme unlawful. The Rwanda plan involves a deal between the British and Rwandan governments to forcibly remove asylum seekers arriving in Britain by what Home Secretary Suella Braverman terms "irregular means" to Rwanda, alleged to be a "safe" third country.

As well as the Court of Appeal ruling, which the government is planning to appeal against to the Supreme Court, that the Rwanda plan is "unlawful" since Rwanda cannot be considered a "safe" country, the Illegal Migration Bill legislation blatantly stands in contradiction to international law on such points as unaccompanied child migrants, victims of trafficking, and instituting an "exceptional circumstances" test for removal where a person has made a protection or human rights claim.

As has been pointed out, the act of migrating is of course not inherently illegal under entrenched principles of international law and policy. This is embodied in the declaration that #NoOneIsIllegal. [4]

The attack on the rights of migrants builds on the racist legislation of many Acts of the UK, Acts which deliberately confuse citizenship with nationality, and carry a racist definition of "Britishness". The concept of "patriality", for example, was introduced in the British Nationality Act of 1981. Specific legislation on immigration and asylum has included the Immigration and Asylum Act of 1999, and the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act of 2006. The conception of illegalising arrival in Britain with leave to remain was codified in the Nationality and Borders Act of 2022.

The racist campaign of the government and the monopoly-controlled media against "asylum-seekers" is consistent with the whole history of racism and colonialism of the British state. It is a continuation of its racist citizenship and immigration laws. The present government is pursuing a vicious course following the call of narrow vested interests which is steeped in 19th century conceptions of colonialism and imperialism, of racist superiority and inferiority, characteristic of the most backward British chauvinism. It is based on the imposition of the maintenance of privileges and not the affirmation and safeguarding of rights.

The government must be held to account for their racist measures and legislation, and the movement against the maintenance and imposition of the old arrangements be developed to bring in new arrangements where all members of the polity are empowered to have their say. Attempts of the reactionary ruling elites to divide the people and maintain the status quo will not wash. Rights belong to all people by virtue of their being. Migrants, refugees and people seeking asylum, together with the whole movement to defend their rights and the rights of all, have consistently fought the attempts of successive governments to erode the rights of migrants and to prevent people's empowerment. Together let us defend the rights of all, and work to bring in the New!

1. Josie Laidman, Free Movement June 11, 2023
2. "Legislative Scrutiny: Illegal Migration Bill", HC 1241, HL Paper 208
3.The "Windrush Generation Scandal".
4.See also "The so-called 'Illegal' Migration Bill, so far", Right to Remain:


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