Stop the anti-refugee bill – time for a safe passage visa


“The Government line is that it wants to stop the people smugglers. There is a far more effective way of doing that. The UK could give safe passage to refugees in Calais who have viable asylum claims, transfer them to the UK safely, and process their claims on arrival here.”

By Clare Moseley, Care4Calais

Today MPs in the House of Commons are debating a new law that will decide the fate of thousands of people.

We are used to the idea that laws affect people’s lives, but this one is different. The Illegal Migration Bill, would allow the UK Government to stop hearing people’s asylum claims. As many of those claims are from people who have escaped torture, death, and human rights abuses in their home countries, such a denial could have the gravest consequences.

And yet it is being rushed through parliament, presumably as part of a PR initiative to make Rishi Sunak look a stronger Prime Minister. Does he believe it is worth it? 

Presumably so.

The Bill will affect anyone claiming UK asylum who does not come via a route authorised by the British Government; effectively, in future, only those refugees that the Government hand picks will be allowed to stay. This is very different to how things have operated since the 1950s when, as a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention, the UK has assessed asylum claims based on each individual’s need, and people have been allowed a degree of choice over where they claim asylum.

Should the bill be passed, those arriving by non-official routes will be subject to unlimited detention, forcibly deported to a ‘third’ country as soon as practicable, and not have their asylum claims, or human rights claims, considered at all in the UK.

There are clear practical barriers to the implementation of these measures – not least the inevitable legal challenges given that the Home Secretary has been forced to acknowledge that the proposals may breach international law.

It is unclear what detention facilities would or could be used, and the Refugee Council has estimated that it could cost a huge £9bn over the first three years.  People cannot be deported unless there is somewhere to deport them to, and the only known agreement is with Rwanda.  Due to legal battles the Government has said there will be no Rwanda flights before 2024, and there are no agreements in place with other countries, despite the Government’s many attempts to make them.  On a recent visit Suella Braverman claimed Rwanda could take “thousands” of refugees, but this is in stark contrast to the United Nations refugee commission’s estimate of its capacity to take only a few hundred.  Could this be because of the agreement’s little-known clause that provides for an exchange of refugees, with the UK committing to resettle Rwanda’s refugees here?

When similar schemes were trialled in Australia, the Government faced international condemnation as well as compensation bills for violating asylum seekers’ human rights.

Critics should not be complacent though: it does appear that the Government will seek to detain tens of thousands of people, and while the idea seems unfeasibly callous, that has never stopped this Government before.

The Government line is that it wants to stop the people smugglers. It is hard to believe this because, there is a far more effective way of doing that which is readily available. The UK could give safe passage to refugees in Calais who have viable asylum claims, transfer them to the UK safely, and process their claims on arrival here. 

As 90 per cent of those who cross on small boats do so to claim asylum (and the vast majority have it granted) this would immediately remove 90 per cent of people smugglers’ profits. More importantly, it would save lives. 

Right now, pretty much any refugee who wants to come to the UK, is coming anyway. They are crossing on small boats, and nothing the government has tried to control or deter this has had any effect. If we were issuing visas we would have visibility, and therefore control, over exactly who is coming. Right now, pretty much anyone can get in a small boat. 

If we can issue 230,000 visas to Ukrainians and 150,000 to people from Hong Kong, surely there is no reason we can’t do the same for just 60,000 of the most vulnerable people from everywhere else in the world?

In November 2021, 32 people lost their lives in the Channel. In December 2022 another eight people drowned. Do we really want to risk our English Channel becoming a watery graveyard like the Mediterranean Sea?

Do not underestimate the significance of this new law. To renege on the obligation to hear asylum claims is to profoundly alter the relationship of our country to the rest of the world. It is also to change our professed ethical values; we’re supposed to believe that all humans beings have equal, intrinsic value, but this selective compassion flies in the face of that. I call on anyone reading to reflect on this and oppose the bill; we should not go gently into this most dark of moral nights.

Featured image: Campaigners for Care4Calais take part in the Stand Up to Racism demonstration against the illegal Immigration Bill on March 18th, 2023. Photo credit: Sam Browse/Labour Outlook

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