Statement on UK s Illegal Migration Bill
Officially outlined on the 7th of March 2023, the new legislation, colloquially referred to as the “ban the boats” law, has two major purposes. First, the law aims to impose an indefinite re-entry ban on all migrants who attempt to arrive in the country via illegal routes. Persons caught landing on British soil through unofficial entry points will be barred from settling in the United Kingdom, immediately removed from the territory, and banned from returning. Second, and as a result of the first, the new rules aim to tamp down on migration through ‘irregular’ routes and would therefore affect mainly those arriving on small boats through the English Channel.
As refugee rights organizations have pointed out, the consequences of this law extend well beyond its ostensible concern about ‘irregular routes’ of entry; the law in fact lays the foundation for further restricting the fundamental right to claim asylum. The ban is designed to be implemented automatically and across the board to all people who arrive through ‘illegal’ routes, making it impossible for authorities to treat each individual case judiciously. Human rights defenders also draw attention to the troublesome detail that the proposed laws will make it easier for the Home Office to forcibly remove migrants, further aiding the already large-scale deportation operation of the British government.
The Lemkin Insitute for Genocide Prevention shares the concern that the Illegal Migration Bill contradicts the principles of both the UN Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Righs, to which the UK is a signatory. UNHCR points out that if the bill enters into force it will de facto amount to an asylum ban. The document will breach people’s right to seek refugee protection and will promote rampant criminalisation of migrants, depriving them of their right of a fair hearing.
There has been a significant increase in the number of people arriving via the English Channel on board small, often unseaworthy, boats. Most of the people are not other Europeans, but rather people fleeing the crises and conflicts that have resulted from European colonization, incomplete decolonization, and the global spread of neoliberal economic practices. Hence, the small boat issue is also an issue of racialist politics, and therefore has become a profitable talking point for politicians across Britain's political spectrum. In particular, it has been one of Prime Minister Sunak’s main campaign slogans for his election into office. With the Illegal Migration Bill Sunak vows to immediately and literally ‘stop the boats,’ increasing the risks for the most vulnerable part of the migrating populations - people seeking refuge from war and persecution. This bill is not only indicative of the right-wing policy swing in Britain, but also, on a larger scale, it is yet another materialization of the inadequate and insufficient immigration legislation that only shrinks migrant avenues of opportunity and makes them more vulnerable to precarious and dangerous practices. The proclamation of Britain’s Prime Minister that the implementation of the bill will encourage people to enter through safer and legal routes, and thus illegal trafficking rings will be brought to standstill, is merely a smokescreen. Even if the bill passes, the legislation itself won’t stop people trying to reach the coast of Britain in search of security, and it will most definitely not stop human traffickers from trying to make a profit.
The Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention reminds all nations that laws like the Illegal Migration Ban effectively cement the status of stateless people while simultaneously depriving them of any means of finding a protective legal identity. Like Europe after the First World War, when the world found itself awash in stateless people as the consequence of the collapse of empires and the creation of new nation states, Europe today is laying the groundwork for a collapse of democracy under the weight of discriminatory and exclusionary laws and practices. Laws like the Illegal Migration Ban operationalize the language of fear and hatred. Once normalized and rendered ‘respectable,’ such laws contribute directly to the development of fascist movements and genocidal ideologies.
The Lemkin Institute implores governments in host countries to demonstrate wisdom and vision, in addition to ethics, by investing in efforts to design and implement legislation that establishes safer, more transparent, and regular pathways for migrants. Such pathways will also ensure the humane and dignified treatment of people needing refuge, regardless of their place of origin or trajectory of migration.