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Illegal Migration Bill: Government Accused of Ignoring International Law

migration

The Government has experienced a series of setbacks in the House of Lords over its illegal migration bill aimed at halting the crossing of small boats in the English Channel. Members of the House voted to amend the bill to prevent new deportation powers being backdated to March of this year. Additionally, they introduced protective measures to safeguard victims of modern slavery and unaccompanied child migrants. These changes could be reversed by Members of Parliament at a later stage.

This news proceeded the Court of Appeal’s ruling that it is unlawful to send asylum seekers to Rwanda to have their claims processed.

The illegal migration bill

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has prioritised putting an end to these crossings as one of his five key objectives, with the bill serving as a central component of the government’s strategy to achieve this goal. The bill, which was unveiled in March, is therefore a pivotal part of the Government’s commitment to “stop” small boat crossings by the end of the year. It would establish a legal obligation for the Government to detain and remove individuals who enter the UK illegally, to Rwanda or another designated “safe” third country.

International refugee law

Critics argue that the bill could breach international refugee laws and undermine existing UK regulations aimed at preventing modern slavery. After ministers made a series of concessions to head off rebellions from Conservative MPs, the bill was successfully passed by the House of Commons in March. However, the bill has encountered strong criticism in the House of Lords, where the government lacks a majority, particularly from Labour, Liberal Democrat, and crossbench peers.

During the first of the three planned voting days on proposed changes, they modified the bill to overturn the government’s plan for the new deportation duty to be backdated to March, when the bill was initially introduced. Lord Murray of Blidworth, the Home Office Minister, argued that this amendment was “crucial” in preventing a surge of crossings leading up to the bill becoming law.

Lord Carlile of Berriew, a crossbench peer who proposed the amendment, said that backdating the powers would establish a “dangerous precedent” and criticised the lack of evidence provided by ministers to justify its necessity.

Lord Hunt, the Labour peer who proposed the amendment, expressed concerns that the current version of the bill, which would eliminate temporary protections against removal offered to suspected victims, would “completely undermine” the legal safeguards in place for victims in the UK. Additionally, the House supported an amendment proposed by Labour peer Lord Dubs that removes new powers enabling the government to set out in the future when unaccompanied child migrants could have their asylum claims deemed inadmissible. Also backed was an amendment from Labour’s Baroness Chakrabarti that specified the bill’s requirement to adhere to international refugee laws.

Lord Murray of Blidworth accused the peers of attempting to obstruct the bill, claiming that the “unnecessary” amendment would incorporate international law “by the backdoor”.

In other votes, members of the House of Lords approved a change that would prevent victims of trafficking from being removed before they have the opportunity to apply for the national system that screens potential victims. Further votes on additional safeguards for asylum seekers who have not been deported after six months, as well as a ban on deporting LGBTQ+ individuals to various countries, including Rwanda, were originally scheduled to take place on Wednesday. However, due to a technical error with the voting system in the House of Lords, these proposed changes are now expected to be voted upon next week when the bill continues its progression through the upper house.

The court of appeal

Rishi Sunak said in a statement that the Government would now seek permission to appeal against the decision at the supreme court as he insisted that Rwanda was a safe country and said that the court had agreed with this. The ruling follows a four-day hearing in April against a high court decision last December that it was lawful to send some asylum seekers, including people arriving on small boats, to Rwanda to have their claims processed rather than dealing with their applications for sanctuary in the UK.

Ten asylum seekers from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam, Sudan and Albania who arrived in the UK via irregular means crossing the Channel in small boats brought the case along with the charity Asylum Aid.

The key issue before the court was whether Rwanda was capable of delivering reliable outcomes on asylum claims and whether there was a risk that asylum seekers would be forcibly removed to their home countries after arriving in Rwanda even if they had strong asylum claims.

The court ruled that due to deficiencies in the Rwandan asylum system there was a real risk that people sent to Rwanda would be returned to their home countries, where they face persecution or other inhumane treatment, when in fact they had a good claim for asylum. The court’s conclusion was that Rwanda is not a “safe third country” even though assurances provided by the Rwandan government were provided in good faith.

Final thought

The setbacks by the House of Lords and the Court of Appeal’s ruling demonstrate a further push back against the Government’s illegal migration bill. Only two days ago, the cost of the bill was criticised, along with issues surrounding the safeguarding of children.

The Government’s furthering of the culture war through the discourse of “Stop the Boats” and the promotion of the illegal migration bill is proving unhelpful. To deal with asylum seekers effectively, the Government must carry out coordinated efforts and provide support to the entire system to avoid backlogs and overwhelming local authorities.

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