The recently passed Illegal Migration Bill in the United Kingdom has come under scrutiny from the United Nations for its contravention of international human rights and refugee law. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, and UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, issued a joint warning today, emphasizing the profound consequences this legislation will have on individuals seeking international protection.
The controversial Bill bars individuals who arrive irregularly in the UK, having passed through another country where they did not face persecution, from accessing asylum. It denies them the opportunity to present refugee protection or other human rights claims, regardless of the compelling circumstances they may face. Furthermore, it mandates their removal to another country without ensuring their access to protection there, while also introducing broad detention powers with limited judicial oversight.
“For years, the UK has been known for providing refuge to those in need, upholding its international obligations. This new legislation significantly undermines the legal framework that has safeguarded numerous individuals, putting refugees at serious risk and breaching international law,” expressed Grandi.
The Bill effectively denies access to protection in the UK for anyone falling within its scope, including unaccompanied and separated children, regardless of whether they face persecution, human rights violations, or are survivors of human trafficking or modern-day slavery. This undermines their well-founded claims under international human rights and humanitarian law.
“Carrying out removals under these circumstances contradicts the prohibition of refoulement and collective expulsions, as well as the rights to due process, family and private life, and the best interests of the affected children,” stated High Commissioner Türk.
Most individuals fleeing war and persecution lack formal documents such as passports and visas, with safe and “legal” routes rarely available to them. The 1951 Refugee Convention acknowledges that refugees may be compelled to enter a country of asylum irregularly.
Without viable removal arrangements with third countries or sufficient operational capacity to handle large numbers of asylum-seekers, a significant portion of them is expected to remain in the UK indefinitely, residing in precarious legal situations.
The legislation exacerbates the vulnerability of those who arrive irregularly in the UK, severely limiting their enjoyment of human rights and exposing them to detention and destitution. Consequently, their rights to health, an adequate standard of living, and employment are at risk, making them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
“In addition to raising serious legal concerns from an international perspective, this Bill sets a concerning precedent for dismantling asylum-related obligations that other countries, including those in Europe, may be tempted to follow. This could potentially undermine the entire international refugee and human rights protection system,” warned Türk.
While acknowledging the UK Government’s concern about the number of asylum-seekers resorting to dangerous journeys across the Channel, UNHCR welcomes efforts to enhance the effectiveness of the existing asylum system through fast, fair, and efficient case processing, ensuring the integration of individuals in need of international protection while swiftly returning those without legal grounds to stay. Unfortunately, these advancements are significantly undermined by the new legislation. Cooperation with European and other partners along migration routes is crucial.
All individuals who leave their country of origin in search of safety and protection are entitled to the full respect of their human rights and dignity, regardless of their legal status, mode of arrival, or any other distinction.
“The UK has long demonstrated its commitment to upholding international human rights and refugee law. This steadfast commitment is needed now more than ever,” emphasized the UN Human Rights Chief.
Türk urged the UK Government to uphold its commitment to human rights by repealing this law and ensuring the respect, protection, and fulfillment of the rights of all migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers without discrimination. This should include efforts to expedite and fairly process asylum and human rights claims, improve reception conditions, and enhance the availability and accessibility of safe pathways for regular migration.