GENEVA (20 July 2023) – UN experts* today urged the United Kingdom to take urgent action to halt the implementation of the Illegal Migration Bill, and bring domestic law in line with international human rights standards to protect and uphold migrants’ rights.
“Any deportation policy is in direct breach of the UK’s commitments and obligations under international human rights and refugee law if it fails to provide for due process safeguards, individualised risk assessments, asylum procedures and adequate protection measures,” the UN experts said.
A number of amendments from the House of Lords, including restrictions on the detention of children and inadmissibility of asylum claims, and safeguards for victims of human trafficking and modern slavery, were overturned by the House of Commons earlier this week, ending the series of readings and votes between the Lords and Commons – and paving the way for the Bill to receive Royal Assent and become law.
“The Illegal Migration Bill gives the Home Secretary unprecedented powers to make arrangements for the detention and deportation of migrants who enter the country irregularly and meet the conditions laid down in the new law, regardless of their protection needs and individual circumstances,” the experts said.
The Bill would establish new detention powers in relation to irregular migration with limited judicial oversight; restrict certain legal challenges and human rights arguments to prevent deportation; fail to make provision for unaccompanied children, pregnant women and victims of slavery or human trafficking; ban people subject to deportation from re-entering the UK or applying for UK citizenship in the future; extend the list of safe third countries; and set an annual cap on the number of people who can enter the UK through “safe and legal” routes.
“We are deeply concerned that the provisions of this policy would severely restrict access to UK territory for those in need of international protection,” the UN experts said.
They stressed that the current approach, which focuses on punitive measures, fails to address the root causes of migration and leaves many people in a state of perpetual limbo, with no means of ensuring their safety and guaranteeing their rights.
“Vulnerable people could be exposed to further harm and risks, including exploitation, trafficking including for purposes of forced labour and sexual exploitation, arbitrary detention, torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. The new policy is likely to fuel hostility, xenophobia and discrimination against migrants, asylum-seekers, and refugees,” the experts said.
They warned that the implementation of the new law could seriously erode and undermine the right to seek asylum and the prohibition of refoulement, the right to liberty, the prohibition of collective expulsions, and the rights and best interests of the child.
“The detention of any adult migrant should be a measure of last resort, used only for legitimate purposes, for the shortest period of time and only when no other appropriate non-custodial alternatives are available,” the experts said.
They urged the Government to repeal this legislation swiftly, take immediate steps to halt any implementation plans and engage in genuine dialogue. They also advised the UK to consult OHCHR’s Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights at International Borders.
The UN experts have contacted the Government regarding this issue. No reply has been received to date.
*The experts: Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; Siobhán Mullally, the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children; Reem Alsalem, Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences; Dr. Alice Jill Edwards, Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; Ashwini, K.P. Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism; Tomoya Obokata, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences.
Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN human rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organisation. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.
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