Prime minister Rishi Sunak is set to introduce an Illegal Migration Bill to remove migrants arriving on small boats and ban them from re-entering the UK.
The new legislation would place a duty on the home secretary to remove anyone arriving in the UK on a small boat to Rwanda or a “safe” third country “as soon as reasonably practicable” and ban them from returning permanently.
Sunak, who has made “stopping the boats” one of his top priorities, told the Mail on Sunday: “Make no mistake, if you come here illegally, you will not be able to stay.” Now, a proposed Illegal Migration Bill is set to be introduced to parliament.
Thousands of migrants have made the journey so far this year
Since the beginning of the year 2,953 migrants have crossed the Channel using this method, originating from a range of countries including Albania, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.
However in 2022, 45,756 migrants crossed the English Channel to the UK in small boats, according to government figures collated by the BBC.
Sunak ‘signed off’ on the Rwanda scheme
Sunak has consistently voted for stronger enforcement of immigration rules and has almost always voted for a stricter asylum system. It was also revealed in 2022 that Sunak had “signed off” and funded the Rwanda Asylum Partnership Agreement and intends to continue plans to send people who arrive in the UK seeking asylum – to Rwanda.
The UN Refugee Agency said that the Rwanda scheme undermines the 1951 Refugee Convention, which the UK helped to draft in the aftermath of WWII. Earlier this year, the government admitted that immigration plans, including the Rwanda migration partnership, have not provided safe government-backed routes for asylum seekers.
Sunak’s human rights records foreshadowed announcement
Sunak has previously stated that he would cap the number of refugees the UK would accept each year “via safe and legal routes”. Under the 1951 Refugee Convention, to which the UK is a signatory, a “refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom”. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights also enshrines a person’s right to leave their country and seek asylum in another country.
Rishi Sunak voted to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 and has shown his support for replacing it with a Bill of Rights, a flagship policy of his supporter Dominic Raab, justice secretary. Sunak has stated that human rights law was a “problem” that was acting as an obstacle to government.
Sunak’s position on ECHR membership has been fluid. During the Conservative leadership contest in 2022, Sunak said “all options are on the table” when asked if the UK will withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) following a ruling against the government’s plan to deport people to Rwanda.
However, when questioned by Shadow Minister for Employment Alison McGovern, Sunak stated: “The UK is and will remain a member of the ECHR.” The statement was made in response to McGovern’s question on whether the UK would pull out of the ECHR and the impact that would have on the Good Friday Agreement.
Are there safe routes for all asylum seekers?
The home secretary, Suella Braverman, was questioned by the Home Affairs Select Committee on how someone could get to the UK if they are not from Syria, Afghanistan or Ukraine, which have official programmes for asylum with the UK.
When asked theoretically how an orphan from an east African country could get to the UK to apply for asylum, Braverman was unable to answer. When asked if migrants could be forced to go to Rwanda, and how many judicial reviews have been launched against Manston, the migration centre in Kent, she also could not give an answer.
The UK currently has refugee visa schemes for the Ukraine, Afghanistan and Hong Kong, which are operating to varying success. There are no official schemes available for people coming from Syria, Sudan, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq or Yemen. The Refugee Council clarified that for Albanian nationals, things are more complex, with claims more likely to be successful if you are a women or child.
🧵 That UK Refugee Visa Scheme as it stands:
Ukraine 🇺🇦 : Visa scheme ✔️
Afghanistan 🇦🇫: Schemes failing 🤔
Hong Kong 🇭🇰: Working scheme ✔️
Syria 🇸🇾: Scheme closed 🛑
Sudan 🇸🇩: No scheme 🛑
Eritrea 🇪🇷: No scheme 🛑
Iran 🇮🇷: No scheme 🛑
Iraq 🇮🇶: No scheme 🛑
— Refugee Council 🧡 (@refugeecouncil) January 17, 2023
No recourse to public funds” ruled unlawful for the fifth time
“No recourse to public funds”, is a policy that is attached to visas, which states that this individuals are not eligible for support from the state, such as respite care, child benefits and Universal Credit.
On a backdrop of the cost of living crisis, the policy has been criticised for making it difficult for an estimated 1.5m people to stay in the country who have not received leave to remain.
The High court ruled that the Home Office did not consider disability-related needs lawfully when processing applications. Instead, it was insisted that the applicants provide exhaustive evidence to ‘prove’ that they were destitute. Evidence that the law firm Deighton Pierce Glynn has stated: “is very difficult for anyone to provide and even more so for people living or caring for someone with disabilities.”
An ouster clause could be introduced to the Illegal Migration Bill to keep decisions out of court
An ‘ouster clause’ is an amendment to a piece of legislation that would bypass domestic courts.
Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos, head of law at Goldsmiths, University of London, said: “The government does not only intend to avoid international law scrutiny (if it were to pull out of the ECHR). It is equally keen, according to The Times, to avoid being held accountable by domestic courts. It considers introducing “ouster clause” aimed at keeping decisions out of courts!”
The Illegal Migration Bill is due to be presented to parliament on the 7 March.