What Is UK’s Proposed Illegal Migration Bill? What Does It Mean For Asylum Seekers?

Before it even attempts to become a law, Sunak’s proposed Illegal Migration Bill has already met with backlash from UK rights groups and United Nations agencies.

British PM Rishi Sunak

On Sunday, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak proposed a new bill to tackle the issue of illegal migration. "If you come here illegally, you can't claim asylum. You can't benefit from our modern slavery protections. You can't make spurious human rights claims and you can't stay," Sunak had tweeted. Before it even attempts to become a law, Sunak’s proposed bill has already met with backlash from UK rights groups and United Nations agencies.

Expressing concern, the United Nations Human Rights Council issued a statement on Tuesday, saying the bill would “deny protection to many asylum-seekers in need of safety and protection” if it comes into force.

The British Indian leader, along with his Home Secretary Suella Braverman, is planning to table the legislation in Parliament next week.

What is the Illegal Migration Bill?

Rishi Sunak’s proposed illegal migration bill seeks to put a “brake” on the abuse of human rights laws. He aims to end the problem of thousands of refugees seeking “illegal” entry into the United Kingdom, especially those crossing over dangerously in small boats from across the English Channel.

If enacted, the illegal migration law will give power to the interior minister to ensure that those who arrived even before its approval, are subject to detention and arbitrary removal without a legal remedy.

Why is the bill being proposed?

Sunak had made cracking down on this illegal route between the UK's sea border with neighbouring France among his top priorities for the year. 

According to a report by The Guardian, as many as 45,755 men, women and children crossed the English Channel in small boats to reach the UK in 2022, most of whom have claimed asylum. The report goes on to say that nearly 3,000 people have crossed so far in 2023 and official estimates are expecting more than 80,000 by the year's end. 

“Illegal migration is not fair on British taxpayers, it is not fair on those who come here legally and it is not right that criminal gangs should be allowed to continue their immoral trade. I’m determined to deliver on my promise to stop the boats,” Sunak told British daily ‘The Sunday Express’. 

What about European Convention on Human Rights?

According to the UK’s Human Rights Act 1998, all legislation in the country must be compatible with the rights guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights (an international convention to protect human rights and political freedoms in Europe).

Although assertive that it was a necessary step, Suella Braverman has been unable to confirm if the bill was compatible with the existing European convention on human rights, The Guardian reported. However, the government inserted a section 19(1)(b) statement into the bill, meaning they will proceed with the bill anyway.

What happens to the asylum seekers?

Those found entering illegally will be deported home or to a "safe third country", as per the UK’s existing plan, such as Rwanda, where they could then claim asylum.

Sunak and Braverman are expected to travel to Paris towards the end of next week for talks with French President Emmanuel Macron to explore an enhanced agreement over the issue of small boats crossing over from Calais in France to Dover in England.

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