The British Parliament adopted on Tuesday a very controversial law against illegal immigration, which drastically restricts the right to asylum, to the point of being, criticizes the UN, in contradiction with international law on refugees.
Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who has made the fight against illegal immigration a priority, has promised to “stop” the arrival of migrants by the Channel in small boats. The new law should dissuade these migrants from coming to the United Kingdom, according to the government which is struggling to fulfill the promise made at the time of Brexit to “regain control” of the borders.
Migrants who arrived illegally on British territory will no longer be able to seek asylum in the country, according to the text.
The government also wants migrants, after being detained, to be expedited quickly, either to their country of origin or to a third country such as Rwanda, wherever they come from.
Highly criticized even in the majority, the bill remained blocked for weeks in Parliament, the House of Lords having demanded numerous amendments, in particular limits on the detention of children and protections against modern slavery. It was finally adopted overnight from Monday to Tuesday and now simply has to be promulgated by the King Charles IIIa formality.
The UN has strongly condemned the law, saying it “contradicts” the UK’s obligations under international human rights and refugee law.
It will have “profound consequences for people in need of international protection”, denounced in a joint press release the High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk and the High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.
Migrants will have “no guarantee of being able to benefit from protection in the country” where they will be expelled, denounces the UN. The law “creates sweeping new powers of detention, with limited judicial review.”
In 2022, more than 45,000 migrants crossed the Channel, especially from France, on board small boats, a record. They are more than 13,000 to have made the crossing since the beginning of the year. In the first quarter, it was mainly Afghans.
The government accuses migrants coming illegally of “skipping the queue” to the detriment of those arriving through “safe” or legal channels.
But “most people fleeing war or persecution do not have access to documents such as passports or visas,” says the UN. “Safe or ‘legal’ pathways are rarely available to them.”
For the British NGO Refugee Council, “it is a dark day” for the reputation of the United Kingdom and “a serious moment” for those seeking protection: “The fight for a fair and humane asylum system continues” .
London made a deal last year with Rwanda to send illegal migrants there, but no deportations have yet taken place. A first flight scheduled for June 2022 had been canceled after a decision by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
At the end of June, the courts declared this project illegal, but the government immediately announced an appeal.
The spiritual leader of the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who is a member of the House of Lords is a fierce opponent of the law passed on Tuesday.
“I don’t see how” it will make it possible to stop the boats of migrants, he said during the debates. “I haven’t heard anything that convinced me,” he added.
The United Kingdom has other strings to its bow against illegal immigration.
Paris and London reached a new agreement in March providing for British funding to support France’s efforts to prevent departures to England.
In addition, around 500 asylum seekers will be accommodated on a barge docked in an English port, in order to reduce the cost of hotel accommodation.
The barge, named Bibby Stockholm, arrived Tuesday morning in the port of Portland, in the south of England. It has been strongly criticized by NGOs, who call it a “prison boat”.