September 26 2023

‘Widespread human rights failings’ found in controversial Illegal Migration Bill

‘Widespread human rights failings’ found in controversial Illegal Migration Bill

The UK government’s human rights committee has criticised ‘widespread human rights failings’ in the Illegal Migration Bill currently making its way through the House of Lords.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights has released a report into the controversial legislation, identifying numerous ways the bill in its current form breaches human rights law.

The report states that, if passed, the bill would deny the right to asylum to the vast majority of refugees and breach the government’s legal obligations towards refugees, children and victims of modern slavery.

The plan to remove refugees arriving in the UK by ‘irregular’ routes has been found to breach numerous international laws, including under the Refugee Convention.

Detention of refugees is a key feature of the legislation, removing current limits on immigration detention for children, families and pregnant women. The Committee has found this risks breaching the right to liberty under the European Convention of Human Rights, and that further strain on an immigration detention system already under extreme pressure could cause deteriorations in conditions that would further break the law. 

They also identify that limiting the right to bail of people detained under the Bill for 28 days, and denying access to judicial review of their detention is ‘hard to reconcile’ with human rights law.

The report includes extensive analysis of proposals for age assessments of child refugees. Refugees who are ‘assessed’ as being over the age of 18 won’t have the chance to challenge this decision in court, so face the prospect of being removed from the UK as an adult. 

The Committee has previously published evidence from medical professionals showing that there are currently no scientific methods which can ‘accurately and consistently’ determine whether a person is a child. These proposals are therefore said to breach the UK’s obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and European legislation granting the right to a fair trial.

Although the Bill currently states that unaccompanied child refugees must be housed by law, no safeguards or standards have been published for that accommodation. The fact that under the legislation child refugees face the threat of deportation when they turn 18 ‘gives [children] a perverse incentive to flee the care of authorities’, making them ‘extremely vulnerable’ to traffickers and criminal gangs.

Chair of the Joint Committee, Joanna Cherry KC MP, said: ‘Most people fleeing persecution or conflict have no safe and legal way of getting here. Under the Bill, any refugee or victim of modern slavery who comes to the UK irregularly and indirectly, as most do, will automatically have their asylum claim declared inadmissible. They will also be subject to detention without time limit and removal from the UK irrespective of the merits of their claims.’

‘I urge the Government to seriously consider the recommendations in this report and take steps to address the human rights incompatibilities in this Bill. The UK has international legal obligations to those fleeing persecution and conflict, victims of modern slavery, and children. The Bill needs to comply with these obligations.’

The Bill is currently at committee stage in the House of Lords where it will be debated twice more this month.