UN chiefs raise 'grave concerns' after UK passes Illegal Migration Bill

The legislation places a legal duty on the government to detain and deport illegal migrants

Controversial migrant barge arrives in the UK

Controversial migrant barge arrives in the UK
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The UN has warned Rishi Sunak that his Illegal Migration Bill flouts international law.

The controversial legislation is set to be enshrined in UK law after scaling its final hurdles in Parliament, offering a boost to the Prime Minister following several setbacks to his pledge to “stop the boats”.

The bill places a legal duty on the government to detain and remove people who arrive in the UK by illegally crossing the English Channel.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said the package “significantly erodes the legal framework” in the UK that has protected migrants in the past, and risks “exposing refugees to grave risks in breach of international law”.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said the bill raises “very serious legal concerns” from an international perspective and could prompt other nations to pass similar laws.

He said governments, including those in Europe, “may be tempted to follow, with a potentially adverse effect on the international refugee and human rights protection system as a whole”.

Mr Sunak’s administration won a series of votes on the bill in the House of Lords on Monday night, ending a weeks-long effort by some members of the unelected upper chamber to amend the package.

Last week, the government was forced to ditch parts of the bill pertaining to pregnant women and minors.

The next step is for the bill to be given Royal Assent, after which it will become law and known as an act.

Downing Street said the legislation will go hand-in-hand with the government’s plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda while their claims are being processed.

Last week, Home Secretary Suella Braverman won approval to bring a Supreme Court challenge against a ruling that Rwanda policy is unlawful.

“This is an important part of our work to stop the boats and obviously it will be paired with the Rwanda policy,” the Prime Minister’s spokesman told reporters.

“It’s important we have these two aspects together but it makes sense to have the act in place before this court challenge concludes.”

The passing of the Illegal Migration Bill offers a boost for Mr Sunak, following a series of setbacks to his pledge to “stop the boats”.

Mr Sunak said in June that his efforts to deter people from making the perilous crossing across the Channel were “starting to work”, and pointed to the low number of arrivals.

But earlier this month a record for 2023 was made when about 700 arrivals were registered.

Home Office figures showed that 686 migrants made it across on July 7, beating this year's previous daily record of 549 on June 11.

Sonya Sceats, chief executive of charity Freedom from Torture, criticised the passing of the Illegal Migration Bill.

“The UK has just taken a wrecking ball to the refugee protection system we helped to forge after the Holocaust,” she wrote on Twitter.

She pointed to the “unusual joint statement” from the UN human rights and refugee chiefs.

Mr Turk, the global body’s human rights chief, noted Britain “has long had a commitment to upholding international human rights and refugee law” which he said is “needed today more than ever”.

“I urge the UK 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,” Mr Turk said.

“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.”

Government ministers have argued that the bill will act as a deterrent for future asylum seekers.

The passing of the legislation came hours before a barge set to house 500 male migrants arrived in a port in the south of England.

The stationing of the Bibby Stockholm at Portland Port in Dorset forms part of Mr Sunak's plan to transfer migrants out of taxpayer-funded hotels to cheaper accommodation.

Locals have been protesting against the move.

But despite the arrival of the barge and the passing of the bill, Mr Sunak's promise to stem the flow of dinghies crossing the Channel is proving to be a difficult one.

Even as the legislation has worked its way through the legislative process, thousands of migrants have continued to make the crossing.

More than 13,000 people have been brought to UK shores after being plucked from boats in the Channel so far this year.

More than 3,000 people arrived in June alone.

The UK's backlog of asylum applicants stands at 130,000.

Migrant barge arrives in Dorset - in pictures

Updated: July 18, 2023, 1:36 PM