Illegal Migration Bill ‘removes protections for victims of trafficking’, equalities watchdog says

The EHRC has issued savage criticism of the legislation

Suella Braverman speaking at a lectern

The government’s latest anti-migrant legislation ‘risks breaching international obligations’. That’s the assessment of the Illegal Migration Bill from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

The EHRC has made the intervention in advance of the next stage of the Bill’s passage through parliament. The Bill is due to return to the House of Commons on April 25.

The UK’s official equalities watchdog has said it “remains seriously concerned that the Bill risks placing the UK in breach of its international legal obligations to protect human rights, and exposing people to serious harm”.

According to the EHRC, the Bill is concerning as it would undermine the “core principle of the universality of human rights”, “removes protections for victims of trafficking and modern slavery”, and “risks breaching the Refugee Convention by restricting the right to asylum and penalising refugees”. Alongside this, the EHRC has raised concerns about the provisions within the legislation for detaining children.

The Illegal Migration Bill would cause asylum claims to be automatically rejected from anyone who arrives in the UK via irregular or unlawful means. It would also place a duty on the home secretary to deport anyone who arrives through these means to Rwanda or a ‘safe third country’.

Home secretary Suella Braverman has said the Bill is intended to stop refugees crossing the English Channel in small boats.

The Illegal Migration Bill would make claiming asylum incredibly difficult as there are very few safe and legal routes for refugees to arrive in the UK. If the Bill becomes law, refugees will usually only be able claim asylum through established schemes – such as those for people fleeing Ukraine or Afghanistan.

However, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has today highlighted that the Bill would also prevent some Afghan refugees from claiming asylum in the UK. The think tank said that new figures which show nearly one thousand Afghans detected crossing the Channel in small boats in the first quarter of the year, illustrates how the new legislation would leave these refugees “abandoned”.

Marley Morris, IPPR associate director for migration, trade and communities, said: “Today’s migration statistics expose the muddled thinking at the heart of the government’s new migration bill. 

“Afghans left stranded after the disastrously executed withdrawal in 2021 will almost always have a well-founded protection claim, but under the government’s migration bill any arriving by small boat on or after 7 March will be refused asylum and the Home Secretary will have a duty to remove them. 

“And without countries to send people to, thousands will be trapped in limbo in the UK – unable to be removed and unable to claim asylum. 

“While the government claims there are safe routes for Afghans, these have been plagued by delays and difficulties. Only 22 people were resettled under one of the key Afghan pathways in 2022.”

Last week, the UK’s leading race equality think tank, the Runnymede Trust, said that the Bill uses the same ‘dehumanising rhetoric’ as Enoch Powell used in his ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech.

Chris Jarvis is head of strategy and development at Left Foot Forward

Image credit: Brendon Hattiloney / Number 10 – Creative Commons

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