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Alyn Smith MP: Reponse to ‘Illegal Migration Bill’


Categories: Foreign Affairs, UK Government (Westminster)

Alyn Smith MP said:

Let me be very clear, this bill breaks international law, is incompatible with the ECHR and will worsen the crisis of small boats.

I commented on the Bill before it was in the House of Commons because it was being so rushed that most MPs were unable to speak during its passage. I explain the main issues that there are in relation to this legislation. My colleague Alison Thewlis MP spoke passionately during the raising specific concerns over children seeking refugee status, breaching international laws and safeguarding of vulnerable individuals.

This Bill breaks the UK’s long-standing commitment to upholding and adhering to international humanitarian law.Currently, asylum seekers arriving in the UK have the right to seek protection under the UN’s Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights. A clause in the Illegal Migration Bill is expected to apply a “rights brake”, or a “Strasbourg break” to effectively allow conventions like the Human Rights Act to be circumvented and “dis­applied” when it comes to policing the UK’s borders. It is not clear how this would work.

Barrister Colin Yeo, author of the Free Movement blog, told the FT the prolonged detention of migrants was certain to be challenged in Strasbourg. “It sounds like wishful thinking on the government’s part the idea you can just wish it all away by legislating,” he said. This draconian legislations shows how nasty, small, and insular the UK has become under a Tory Government unable to make deals with France or neighbouring states to stop Channel Crossings.

Not only that, the UK Government’s family reunion rules are also among the most restrictive in Europe; the Dubs scheme for refugee children was closed prematurely; and Brexit means that so-called ‘Dublin family reunion applications’ are no longer possible. There also remains no agreement in place on the return of migrants with the EU.

In December, the UNHCR said: “Everybody has the right to seek asylum from persecution in another country, and there is no such thing as an ‘illegal asylum-seeker’. The indefinite detention of those seeking asylum, based solely on their mode of arrival, would punish people in need of help and protection and constitute a clear breach of the United Kingdom’s obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention.”

In a statement released on the 7th of March, the UNHCR is “profoundly concerned” by the asylum bill:

“The effect of the bill (in this form) would be to deny protection to many asylum-seekers in need of safety and protection, and even deny them the opportunity to put forward their case. This would be a clear breach of the Refugee Convention and would undermine a longstanding, humanitarian tradition of which the British people are rightly proud.”

The legislation, if passed, would amount to an asylum ban – extinguishing the right to seek refugee protection in the United Kingdom for those who arrive irregularly, no matter how genuine and compelling their claim may be, and with no consideration of their individual circumstances”.

Even the Home Secretary admits on the face of the Bill, it is not compatible with ECHR.The European Convention on Human Rights is not a Eurocratic creation, but a system championed by Winston Churchill, while one of its key drafters was David Maxwell Fyfe, a former Conservative Home Secretary and one of the prosecutors at Nuremburg. Since its creation, the HRA has been instrumental in ensuring advances in equality across the UK. The Act was central to securing justice for the families of the victims or Hillsborough, and to the successful challenge brought by the victims of the sex offender John Worboys in the face of serious failings by the Police.

It is also important to understand that in Northern Ireland the ECHR and the HRA are integral to the Good Friday Agreement, set the framework for post-conflict policing, and helps govern the Northern Ireland Assembly. Attempting to overhaul these from Westminster could have serious consequences for peace in Northern Ireland. More broadly, Human Rights are under threat across the world. Increased Russian and Chinese aggression, and the recent rolling back of abortion rights in the USA.

This Bill enshrines asylum hotels as standard and does nothing to breakup trafficking gangs. Provisions within the Bill enshrines the asylum hotels model as standard for all irregular arrivals, meaning the often-quoted daily costs for hotels may continue to rise. The Bill will detain everyone arriving on a small boat for 28 days.  The UK’s current detention capacity is 2,286 beds. With 65,000 people expected to cross in small boats this year, the Government would need to find a lot of extra spaces to make these plans work. The Refugee Council also estimates it would cost £219 million a year to detain 65,000 people for 28 days, or £1.4bn for six months. This obviously completely voids any economic argument that is often cited by the Government.

The Nationality and Borders Act was touted to break the economic model of gangs and stop the small boats, yet just like this Illegal Migration Bill, it is unlikely to mean refugees have access to safe & legal routes. Introducing the Nationality and Borders Bill at second reading, the previous Home Secretary told the House the Bill would: “finally address the issues that over a long period of time, cumulatively, have resulted in the broken system that we have now.” That Act is law, the so-called answers to the small boats crossing her predecessor proclaimed, begs questions as to why there is more legislation now being introduced to tackle small boat crossings. This shows that the SNP’s argument throughout the passage of the Nationality and Borders Act was correct- seeking to criminalise asylum seekers through the hostile environment is not the answer. Yet instead of changing course, the UK Government is continuing with the flawed approach and yet more legislation.

Our arguments on this have not changed. The UK Government should be looking to create the safe and legal routes that would mean people would not be forced to turn to criminal gangs in the first place. They should address the dire systemic failings of an immigration system that they have overseen for the last 13 years. More than 160,000 asylum seekers were waiting for an initial decision on their claim at the end of December – up 60% for the same period in 2021, and quadruple the number awaiting an initial decision at the end of 2019, before the Covid pandemic. In other words, a staggering 83% of asylum applications made since 2018 are still awaiting a decision. This shows that the UK Government priorities are misplaced when Backlog Britain shows how broken the system is.

Here is the amendment that the SNP tabled:

That this House, which would support legislation to improve the effective application in the United Kingdom of laws applying to refugees, asylum-seekers and victims of modern slavery, declines to give a Second Reading to the Illegal Migration Bill because it does not contain a single measure that targets people traffickers or people smugglers, but would see people who have fled persecution such as from the Taliban and other oppressive regimes permanently excluded from refugee protection in the UK regardless of their individual circumstances and left in permanent limbo in hotels and other unsuitable asylum accommodation at huge cost to their health and to the taxpayer, would deprive victims of trafficking including sex trafficking and similar crimes of essential support under modern slavery legislation across the UK and thereby increase opportunities for organised criminals to exploit vulnerable people, would lead to mass detention, would enshrine in law arrangements that have seen hundreds of unaccompanied children go missing, would remove vital judicial safeguards and oversight, and would undermine the letter and spirit of the Refugee Convention, the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.” My colleagues and I at Westminster will continue to hold the Government to account on this matter.