A draconian new anti-refugee bill making its way to becoming law in the UK Parliament will effectively criminalise anyone who arrives into the country illegally and remove them with no recourse to judicial review. Once it becomes law, it will affect thousands of Africans who undertake the hazardous Channel crossing from France. Report by Anver Versi.
Anyone who enters the United Kingdom illegally and having passed through a ‘safe country’ to do so will be arrested, detained and removed from the country. Migrants “may be detained for 28 days with no recourse for bail or judicial review, and then for as long as there is a reasonable prospect of removal,” according to a new bill introduced to Parliament on Tuesday (07 / 03 / 2023) by the Home Secretary Suella Braverman.
Announcing the Illegal Migrations Bill, Braverman said that people coming to the UK illegally will be prevented from settling in the country and will face “a permanent ban from returning.”
The aim of the bill, she said was to stop the huge increase of migrants using small boats to cross over the English Channel from Calais in France. Last year, a record 45,755 migrants arrived in the UK after crossing the Channel and this year, according to government statistics, more than 3,000 have already crossed over.
The Home Office believes the crossings are facilitated by organised gangs of people traffickers who charge small fortunes, pack as many migrants as possible into flimsy crafts, including rubber dinghies and often leave them to their fates. The aim is to ‘break the business model’ of the criminal traffickers, she vowed.
A report by The Institute of Race Relations estimated that between 1999 and 2000 some 300 people, including children and babies had died trying to cross the Channel. In November 2021, an additional 31 people died when their dingy capsized in rough seas and in December 2022, four people died in freezing conditions. Authorities believe the real figure is higher as not all deaths have been reported.
The composition of the migrants trying to cross the Channel has been changing but the latest figures suggest that the majority of refugees come from five countries – Afghanistan, Syria, Eritrea, Sudan and Iran. However, in 2022, almost 30% of the asylum seekers were from Albania, representing a huge spike from previous years. The UK considers Albania a safe country so asylum applications are likely to be rejected.
Asylum system overwhelmed
Addressing the House of Commons, Braverman said: “People are dying in the Channel. The volume of illegal arrivals has overwhelmed our asylum system. The backlog has ballooned to over 160,000.
“The asylum system now costs the British taxpayer £3 billion a year.
“Since 2018, some 85,000 people illegally entered the UK by small boats – 45,000 of them in 2022 alone. All travelled through multiple safe countries in which they could and should have claimed asylum.
“Many came from safe countries, like Albania. Almost all passed through France. The vast majority – 74% in 2021 – were adult males under the age of 40, rich enough to pay criminal gangs thousands of pounds for passage.
“Upon arrival, most are accommodated in hotels across the country, costing the British taxpayer around £6 million a day.
“And when we try to remove them, they turn our generous asylum laws against us to prevent removal. The need for reform is obvious.”
She also said that the bill would place an annual cap – to be decided by Parliament – on the number of refugees the UK will offer sanctuary to “but only once the boats have been stopped”.
Raft of legal hurdles
But it seems certain that the bill will run into various legal tangles, including the human rights angle. Criticising the bill, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said: “The legislation, if passed, would amount to an asylum ban – extinguishing the right to seek refugee protection in the United Kingdom for those who arrive irregularly, no matter how genuine and compelling their claim may be.
“The effect of the bill would be to deny protection to many asylum seekers in need of safety and protection, and even deny them the opportunity to put forward their case.
“This would be a clear breach of the refugee convention and would undermine a longstanding, humanitarian tradition of which the British people are rightly proud.” Suella Braverman herself said she was unable to state that the bill was compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and that there was an even chance that the provisions of the bill would break Human Rights laws.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak – whose parents, like those of Braverman were immigrants from African countries – supported the Home Secretary and said “We’re up for the fight. We wouldn’t be standing here if we weren’t, but actually we’re confident that we will win.”
With legal battles looming, several Conservative MPs urged the Prime Minister to break with the ECHR. Mark Francois, a hard right Tory backbencher said: “Unless we can somehow face them (the European Convention) down, we will remain tied up in legal knots in our own domestic courts and, ultimately, in Strasbourg.”
Criticising the removal of the right to appeal embedded in the bill, Enver Solomon, the Chief Executive of the Refugee Council writing in The Guardian, said that applications for asylum from refugees coming from places such as Iran “are granted in at least 80% of cases; and for three – Afghanistan, Eritrea and Syria – it is 98%.”
But the government, he wrote, “Isn’t interested in providing protection to people who have escaped war, violence and torture by taking dangerous journeys. Desperate to be seen to be tough, it wants to treat all people seeking asylum as suspected terrorists and criminals, lock them up, and then deport them with no meaningful right of appeal.”
But the most stinging condemnation of the bill came from an unexpected source – Gary Lineker, the former England striker and currently the host of the BBC’s highly popular Match of the Day show – a weekly TV package showing the highlights of the English Premier League matches.
He uploaded a video of Braverman saying “Enough is enough. We must stop the boats”, and said: “Good heavens, this is beyond awful. We (UK) take far fewer refugees than other major European countries. This is just an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people. The language used is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s.”
His tweet, drawing a parallel with Nazi Germany’s treatment of Jews, raised a storm of protests from Conservatives with many calling for the BBC to sack him but he had not withdrawn his remarks at the time of writing.
While the bill will most likely pass the House of Commons, it is equally likely that it may be delayed by the House of Lords who will examine all the legal implications. In addition, it is not clear where the detained refugees will be kept or how they can be deported. Certainly not to conflict countries like Syria, Afghanistan or Eritrea.
Braverman’s use of loaded language – describing asylum seekers as part of an ‘invasion’ and thereby labelling them as potential enemies, or stating that her fondest dream is that of a plane of failed asylum seekers taking off for Rwanda – has alienated many people who see this as unnecessarily callous.
With the new UK anti-immigration bill in the works, the heat on those seeking a safe haven from the deadly conflicts of their home countries is rising. The incendiary remarks made by Tunisia’s President Kais Saied, who described African refugees as hordes working with foreign powers to change the demographic composition of his country, has added fuel to the fire. Africans setting out for a hopefully better life abroad should be warned that the heat they will feel in their new destinations will most certainly not be from warm hearts.