In early March, the UK government tabled the Illegal Migration Bill in the House of Commons. It is expected to become law in the coming weeks.
In the government’s own words, the purpose of the bill is to “create a scheme whereby anyone arriving illegally in the UK is removed without delay to their country of origin or a safe third country for asylum processing”.
What this bill really seeks to do is to deter people from entering the UK illegally, but the problem facing the government is that a law alone cannot prevent illegal migration. That is, there is no evidence to support that this legislation will deter people from coming to the UK. On the contrary, what has become clear over the years is that people do not stop escaping poverty and violence in their home countries and coming to the UK just because the UK government tries to scare them away.
To give you a bit of context on how things currently work and how they will change with this law, currently when a person arrives in the UK illegally (without a visa) and applies for asylum, their claim must be processed. Broadly speaking, the person asks for protection from the UK as they are afraid of returning to their home country, the UK studies the case, and eventually, after many months determines whether or not the person can stay and reside here.
The “Illegal Migration Bill” completely changes the current procedure because it proposes to expel people to their own country or to some other “safe” country, such as Rwanda, without first considering their asylum application.
The bill envisages sending Europeans and Albanians who enter illegally back to their countries of origin, and people from other countries to a third country such as Rwanda for asylum processing. Thus, if this bill becomes law, we could end up in an absurd situation in which a Bolivian, who enters the UK illegally through Northern Ireland and wishes to seek asylum, is sent to Rwanda to have his asylum application processed and, if successful, be granted residency in that African country.
The government’s proposed law will not succeed in preventing the illegal entry of migrants, nor will it work, as it presents a number of legal and practical obstacles.
Starting with the legal obstacles, the bill begins with a statement by Home Secretary Suella Braverman, in which she herself says that she cannot say that this law is compatible with the rights of the European Convention on Human Rights. Indeed, the government itself admits that this law is likely to put the UK in breach of its international obligations. We can expect much litigation in UK and international courts before this law can be enforced.
Regarding practical problems, does the government expect Rwanda to have the capacity to receive the thousands of migrants entering the UK illegally? At the moment the only country that has agreed to take migrants from the UK in exchange for money is Rwanda. How does the government intend to deal with people entering the UK illegally? Previously, these people had the motivation to claim asylum because if their claim was successful, they could stay and reside here, but if the opportunity to claim asylum is now taken away, there is no motivation to turn themselves in to the authorities (i.e, better to live undocumented than to be sent to Rwanda). How do they intend to remove thousands of migrants when they are only able to remove very few per year? These are just a few of the many practical obstacles of this bill.
In the coming months we will be hearing a lot about the Illegal Migration Bill and will keep you informed.
Manuel Padilla Behar is a solicitor specialising in immigration law and is the owner of MPB Solicitors. You can contact him here.