“The truth is that the Illegal Migration Bill isn’t about stopping small boat crossings; it’s about stopping people from claiming asylum at all, while tearing up the global asylum system and the Refugee Convention.”Olivia Blake MP
By Olivia Blake MP
On Wednesday, the House of Commons will once gain debate the Government’s Illegal Migration Bill before it goes to the House of Lords. The Bill effectively bans asylum claims that aren’t made through a bespoke scheme, such as Homes for Ukraine or the Afghan Resettlement scheme, while granting the Home Secretary sweeping powers to detain people who make the dangerous crossing to the country on a small boat.
The UN High Commission for Refugees has been clear that, if passed, the Bill would break the UK’s obligations under the Refugee Convention, the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, the 1961 Convention for the Reduction of Statelessness, and international human rights law.
Ministers have repeatedly told us that these proposals are needed to “stop the boats”. It’s a moral outrage that people need to get into a blow-up boat and risk their lives to exercise their rights under the Refugee Convention. We do need a solution to the humanitarian crisis in the Channel but that is not what this Bill offers. Instead, it doubles-down on the same failed hostile environment framework that has characterised the government’s approach to asylum and migration for over a decade.
Since 2018, 56 people have drowned trying to make the Channel crossing, and yet the number of people who attempt it has risen every year. Even after the Government’s Rwanda policy was announced and the Nationality and Borders Act became law, the dangerous journeys continued.
People who support refugee rights often quote a poem called ‘Home’ by the Somali-British writer, Warsan Shire: ‘no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land’ and ‘no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark’.
The poem explains why people attempt the crossings, but also why the government’s strategy will fail and – perhaps more importantly – why its success would be horrifying. That’s because the deterrence framework can only work if the hostile environment it creates is worse than what people are running from.
The truth is that these proposals aren’t about how people come here to claim asylum, small boats or otherwise; they’re about stopping people from claiming asylum at all, while tearing up the global asylum system and the Refugee Convention on which it’s built. This isn’t about fairness; it’s about populist electoral politics and appealing to hard-line anti-refugee opinion. Just look at the cruel proposals to strip away Modern Slavery protections for asylum seekers who have survived human trafficking to get here.
I also suspect that some Tory MPs think it’s positive that the Bill violates international law. The government’s credibility is so shredded, they believe the only route to election success is to create a culture war. It gives them another chance to attack “lefty lawyers” and the European courts – all while the situation for some of the most vulnerable people in the world gets worse.
My suspicions have been confirmed for two reasons. First, Ministers fast-tracked the Bill by putting it through a Committee of the Whole House. Rather than the line-by-line scrutiny you would get in a normal committee, the fast-tracking makes it harder to scrutinise and consolidate opposition to the Bill; sends a signal that this is a political priority to the Tory base; and likely means the Bill will again be debated in time for the local elections – allowing another flurry of headlines about “stopping the boats”.
Second, if the government were serious about ending the dangerous crossings, they would have supported my amendment, NC10, based on proposals from two organisations on the frontline of the humanitarian crisis in the Channel, Care for Calais and the PCS union.
The amendment would have created a ‘safe passage’ visa, giving entry clearance to anyone already in Europe wishing to come to the UK to make an asylum claim. The actual asylum application would be processed in the UK in the normal way once the applicant had arrived in the country. To be clear, the proposals are not a substitute for the asylum process, which needs root and branch reform, but specifically targeted at finding a humane solution to the Channel crossings. In allowing remote, online applications for travel by regular means, a safe passage visa would end the need for dangerous crossings – and fatally undermine the business model of people traffickers – by providing an alternative, safe, and humane entry point to the UK.
That the Tories refused to support the amendment shows what this is all really about – not helping vulnerable people or cracking down on people traffickers but attacking the very principles behind the global asylum system and persecuting an already vulnerable group of people, all for cynical electoral gain.
Now the Bill will come back to the House for Report stage and Third Reading, before being sent off to the House of Lords for “ping pong”. As it makes its way through parliament, we must continue to oppose the government’s illegal proposals, up the pressure by joining the demonstrations against the Bill, and argue for an end to the hostile environment – for a humane, asylum system that upholds international law and treats the people who come here, fleeing war and persecution, with dignity and respect.