The Illegal Migration Bill is being voted on in Parliament today. Below, our CEO, Duncan McAuley, explains why we need to fight against this cruel bill which seeks to tear up the UK’s commitment to the UN Refugee Convention.
With more than half of the UK population polling positively about immigration, celebrities coming forward in their droves in support of Match of the Day presenter, Gary Lineker and the highest grant rates for asylum seekers in decades, you might be excused for thinking the situation is improving for refugees. Instead, we’re seeing another piece of cruel legislation, the ‘Illegal Migration Bill’ (aptly named, as the bill itself is almost certainly illegal) being rushed through Parliament.
While the bill is more likely about an election strategy with a general election looming, it demonstrates our Government’s commitment to cruelty towards a minority group in order to maximise their votes. A strategy which of course comes with a huge cost to the lives it targets.
It’s heavy going, but I feel it’s important to outline the key impacts of the bill as well as highlighting some of the excellent pieces of analysis dissecting the proposed legislation and exposing its obvious shortcomings. Because it’s such a demoralising read, I’ll also use some space below to celebrate just a few of the wonderful things happening in the North East in support of refugees and migrant communities. I hope you are both shocked into action and offered a sense of hope as you read on.
- According to the UN the Illegal Migration Bill amounts to a ‘ban on asylum’ in the UK. It is a clear breach of international law. Although only 45 per cent of asylum seekers in 2022 arrived by small boats across the Channel, ‘Stop the Boats’ is used as the pithy slogan to justify removal of protections for the vast majority of those seeking safety here. According to Home Office statistics 75 per cent of asylum claims are deemed genuine at initial decision and another 12 per cent through the appeals process.
- The bill would automatically deny protection to these people without consideration of their claim if they arrived by an irregular route, such as making the journey of desperation across the Channel.
- The bill proposes a five-fold increase in detention, including the detention of children at an extraordinary cost – the Refugee Council analysis estimates this as approximately £9bn in the first three years.
- Aside from the expense, it appears to be absolutely impractical. Even if the Government were successful in significantly scaling up the inhumane agreement to outsource asylum provision to Rwanda this would still leave tens of thousands of people in limbo with no legal status and no method to remove them from the UK. It would place people, including children, in a position of extraordinary vulnerability and increase their chances of exploitation by placing them in destitution with no route out.
While the policy landscape looks increasingly bleak, that is not the picture on the ground and in our communities in the North East. I’ve been blown away this year by the compassionate reaction of staff in local authorities like Durham County Council and Sunderland City Council as we’ve talked them through some of the myths about asylum seeking in the UK.
There has been quite literally an outpouring of support and emotion as we’ve presented the facts and introduced them to a refugee who shared her own experience as an asylum seeker in the UK.
Marta, my friend of nearly a decade shared her story of fleeing war with her husband and two boys aged one and four months. They left everything behind and boarded a flight carrying only hand luggage to claim asylum in the UK. After an agonising seven years waiting in limbo, their claim was approved and they continue to make their home in the North East, studying and working in our local communities.
The reaction of the course participants gave me hope that the human spirit and a common respect for our fundamental human rights will prevail and I share this experience and the examples below in trust that it does for you also.
On March 1st, Newcastle City Council passed a unanimous motion to take action against the Government’s ‘anti-refugee’ laws and to defend the right to seek safety in the UK. The Council joined Birmingham City Council, dozens of cross-party MPs and over 400 organisations in signing a national pledge to defend the right to seek safety from war and persecution in the UK. A number of local organisations, including the West End Refugee Service and Action Foundation, have also signed the pledge.
Sunderland City of Sanctuary
In 2022 Sunderland stepped up their approach as a City of Sanctuary (see here for info about the wider Sanctuary Network About – City of Sanctuary UK) and Action Foundation have been working with them to provide training to staff across the council to equip them in working with migrant communities and think through how they can develop their services in the coming months. It’s fantastic to see such a clear commitment to welcoming asylum seekers and refugees and brilliant to be involved in their journey.
Room for Refugees
Earlier this month we launched our ‘Room for Refugees’ campaign aiming to support and grow the accommodation we’re able to offer clients in our services. Wthin the first week, we’d had enquiries from two people considering becoming landlords for us, which was both a quicker response than we’d expected and also a great indicator that there are lots of people out there who want to support some of the most vulnerable in our society in any way they can.
How will refugees react to the Illegal Migration Bill? – Free Movement
UNHCR - Statement on UK Asylum Bill
What can I do?
Write to your MP, asking them to stand up for the United Nations Refugee Convention and the UK’s international responsibilities. If you’re not sure who your MP is, or would like more support in writing your letter or email, there’s lots of advice on the Together With Refugees website here.
Write to your local newspaper outlining your opposition – and if you are part of a community or church group, mobilise them to write too.