UN Experts: UK Migration Bill Violates Human Rights

Two U.N. human  rights commissioners have rebuked the Sunak government for its centerpiece legislation, passed earlier this week, to crack down on asylum-seekers and “stop the boats” crossing the English Channel.

U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak giving a press conference last month after visiting a Border Force cutter boat in the Dover Strait. (Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street)

By Kenny Stancil
Common Dreams

A pair of United Nations commissioners have accused the United Kingdom of violating its international human rights and refugee law obligations after the country’s Conservative Party-led Parliament approved legislation cracking down on asylum-seekers.

It passed the so-called Illegal Migration Bill, the centerpiece of right-wing U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s pledge to “stop the boats” crossing the English Channel, on Monday. It is set to become law once King Charles III gives his “royal assent,” which a monarch hasn’t used to block a bill in 315 years.

After that formality, the measure “will have profound consequences for people in need of international protection,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk and U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi warned in a joint statement this week.

As the U.N. Human Rights Office explained:

“The bill extinguishes access to asylum in the U.K. for anyone who arrives irregularly, having passed through a country — however briefly — where they did not face persecution. It bars them from presenting refugee protection or other human rights claims, no matter how compelling their circumstances. In addition, it requires their removal to another country, with no guarantee that they will necessarily be able to access protection there. It creates sweeping new detention powers, with limited judicial oversight.”

“For decades, the U.K. has provided refuge to those in need, in line with its international obligations — a tradition of which it has been rightly proud,” said Grandi. “This new legislation significantly erodes the legal framework that has protected so many, exposing refugees to grave risks in breach of international law.”

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk in 2018. (Bulgarian Presidency, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0)

According to the U.N. Human Rights Office, the legislation

“denies access to protection in the U.K. for anyone falling within its scope — including unaccompanied and separated children — regardless of whether they are at risk of persecution, may have suffered human rights violations, or whether they are survivors of human trafficking or modern-day slavery and may have other well-founded claims under international human rights and humanitarian law.”

In Türk’s words, “Carrying out removals under these circumstances is contrary to prohibitions of refoulement and collective expulsions, rights to due process, to family and private life, and the principle of best interests of children concerned.”

“In addition to raising very serious legal concerns from the international perspective,” Türk continued, “this bill sets a worrying precedent for dismantling asylum-related obligations that other countries, including in Europe, may be tempted to follow, with a potentially adverse effect on the international refugee and human rights protection system as a whole.”

Last month, the U.K. Court of Appeal ruled that the Tories’ widely condemned plan to deport asylum-seekers to Rwanda is unlawful because the African nation cannot be classified as a “safe third country.”

Sunak and Home Secretary Suella Braverman have vowed to challenge the ruling in the U.K. Supreme Court. The courtroom battle over the legality of the so-called U.K.-Rwanda Asylum Partnership Arrangement could have implications for the fate of the broader Illegal Migration Bill. It also underscores how the newly approved legislation threatens to leave asylum-seekers in limbo.

The U.N. Human Rights Office warned Tuesday that

“in the absence of viable removal arrangements with third countries, or without adequate operational capacity to remove large numbers of asylum-seekers, thousands can be expected to remain in the U.K. indefinitely in precarious legal situations.”

“The legislation will exacerbate the already vulnerable situation of people who arrive irregularly in the U.K., drastically limiting the enjoyment of their human rights, and putting them at risk of detention and destitution,” the office added. “As a result, their rights to health, an adequate standard of living, and to work are at risk, exposing them to the risk of exploitation and abuse.”

The Bibby Stockholm barge in Falmouth Docks. (Rod Allday, Geograph, CC BY-SA 2.0)

According to the Financial Times“The end of the legislative debate between the Commons and the Lords came as the Bibby Stockholm barge docked in Dorset where it is expected to house up to 500 migrants, with the first arrivals expected this month.  

Ministers’ plans to house asylum-seekers in the 93-meter-long vessel have faced intense backlash from local people and council members, who said the proposal was “cruel and would place undue strain on the community.”

Türk noted that “the U.K. has long had a commitment to upholding international human rights and refugee law.”

“Such steadfast commitment is needed today more than ever,” said Türk, who added:

“I urge the U.K. government to renew this commitment to human rights by reversing this law and ensuring that the rights of all migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers are respected, protected, and fulfilled, without discrimination.”

“This should include efforts to guarantee expeditious and fair processing of asylum and human rights claims, improve reception conditions, and increase the availability and accessibility of safe pathways for regular migration.” 

Kenny Stancil is a staff writer for Common Dreams.

This article is from Common Dreams.

Views expressed in this article and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

9 comments for “UN Experts: UK Migration Bill Violates Human Rights

  1. HelenB
    July 22, 2023 at 16:33

    Italy has complained repeatedly about the huge influx of foreign immigrants, some who are just passing through.

    France has been recently reeling from civil unrest initiated by inmigrants.

    Now the UK. It would be interesting to know the numbers of foreign entries of all categories, coming from which countries, going to which countries. It is my understanding that most of these immigrants left due to conflicts at home.

    Mmmm. Can the UN accept some responsibility and create policy to reduce civil strife and war?

  2. Drew Hunkins
    July 21, 2023 at 15:28

    There’s nothing wrong with a nation-state prioritizing taking care of its own citizens as its number one imperative. Of course, it greatly helps if said nation-state isn’t causing the creation of refugee wastelands via “free trade”, austerity, and warmongering.

    • Red Star
      July 23, 2023 at 03:31

      The thing is, Britain isn’t even prioritizing taking care of its own citizens. Apart from the top 1% of course…

  3. Riva Enteen
    July 21, 2023 at 10:36

    “I urge the U.K. government to renew this commitment to human rights…”

    “Urge” doesn’t quite cut it.

    Yes, the countries the refugees are fleeing are the countries the US has bombed.

  4. James White
    July 21, 2023 at 06:56

    The open borders lobby is relentless. There is always a court somewhere that will strike down any reasonable effort to contain or control mass immigration. These are the same anarchists who opposed Brexit. It took a monumental effort from ordinary British people to achieve Brexit. The core of Brexit was a vote against mass immigration without limits. There is separately the phenomenon of irrational people who endlessly crave massive spending by governments. As if government resources were infinite and can never be subject to any rational decision making process. Such people represent upwards of 40% of Western nations. If enough people can be guilted into reckless spending without restraint, and the irrational spenders ever exceed 50% of the population, the entire Western financial system would be headed for collapse. Narcissism is epidemic and that does not bode well for adult reasoning and behavior. This is a slow-creeping bonfire of the vanities that will burn itself out. One way or another.

  5. Carolyn Williams
    July 21, 2023 at 04:35

    Thank you for your excellent article, Mr Stancil, but could I just correct one comment. ‘Royal Consent’ has been withheld around 67 times from legislation passed by the Scottish government in the past 20 odd years.

  6. Richard A. Pelto
    July 20, 2023 at 15:37

    The USA provides a good example of how many people can manipulate “refugee” and “asylum” status. Given how many people are now trying to find ways to escape unsustainability, how many people do you think those that remain marginally stable can absorb? Can you think of a problem not exacerbated by a too heavy population footprint?

  7. James M
    July 20, 2023 at 15:16

    UK is still a sovereign nation. They have every right to do what they deem best for their citizens (who elected them.)

  8. July 20, 2023 at 13:33

    How many of these people are Ukrainian?? most of these poor people are running because what Britain and America done to there country ,they left because we bombed there homes and places of employment and we walked away without any accountability and now hundreds of children die every day with cancer with the bombs and weapons we left with plutonium in Iraq Libby,Syria,Afghanistan,Yemen.millions of innocents people died because of Lies our Prime Minister Tony Blair ,and George Bush and how many of these poor people family’s were bombed .

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