Braverman’s recent rhetoric around the Refugee Convention has been abhorrent – and the Conservative policies it underpins are about to wreck lives in the usual callous way. Now, a new report from the Refugee Council has laid bare the likely impact of the new Illegal Migration Act. It states that Tory asylum policies could render tens of thousands of migrants at risk of destitution.
Illegal Migration Act
The Refugee Council analysed new Home Office statistics on asylum applications for those who’ve made the dangerous Channel crossing. Their report found that nearly three-quarters of the estimated 14,648 people who made the journey this year would be granted asylum if the UK processed their claims.
Notably, the new report highlighted this in light of the new Illegal Migration Act. The legislation became law on the 20 July, and will deny asylum claims from migrants crossing the Channel. Specifically, the Refugee Council found that the Act could push over 35,000 people arriving by small boat into “permanent limbo”. This estimate refers to those who would have their asylum claim deemed permanently inadmissible, yet are unable to return to their country of origin.
When in force, the new Act will bar people from claiming asylum if they’ve entered the UK via ‘illegal’ routes. This includes those seeking asylum who have arrived via the Channel, or through perilous lorry journeys. The Refugee Council therefore spotlighted the horrendous impact the legislation could have:
It is highly likely these people will disappear into the margins of communities and be at risk of long-term destitution, exploitation and abuse.
By August 2023, the government had a backlog of over 175,000 unprocessed claims. In 2022, the Refugee Council calculated that over 40,000 asylum seekers had waited between one and three years for the Home Office to process their claim.
Already, support for asylum seekers is abysmal. While they wait for claims to be processed, the UK denies them the right to work, offers pitiful living allowance, and makes vital services like healthcare all but inaccessible. None of this is even to mention the unsafe, unsanitary accommodation the government forces asylum seekers into.
Now, many future asylum seekers will receive no state support while the government denies them the right to live and work safely in UK communities indefinitely.
Of course, the Illegal Migration Act’s solution to this unconscionable limbo is simply more racism. The legislation has become notorious for its policy to deport asylum seekers to a “safe third country” such as Rwanda.
As the Canary’s Joe Glenton reported in June, the London High Court ruled the government’s Rwanda plan unlawful on multiple grounds. Notably, judges found that it breached Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This states that:
No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
After the ruling, PM Rishi Sunak pledged to contest the decision.
The court noted that there was a “real risk” that Rwanda would return asylum seekers to their home countries, where they could face “persecution or other inhumane treatment.” Moreover, migrant rights groups have raised the issue of the country’s poor human rights record for LGBTQ+ people.
Given all this, the Refugee Council’s new report shows that migrants will be trapped between a rock and a hard place. Essentially, the UK government will put asylum seekers at risk of re-deportation or rights violations in Rwanda, or push people into a state of perpetual precariousness and poverty in the UK.
Breaching international law
The report’s findings come a week after home secretary Suella Braverman attacked the United Nations (UN) Refugee Convention in a hate-filled tirade. Under the convention, all people have the right to seek asylum in another country of their choice.
As party to the convention, both the EU and the UN refugee and human rights bodies have previously warned that the UK’s Illegal Migration Act could therefore contravene international law. On the UK parliament’s passing of the act in July, the UN high commissioner for refugees Filippo Grandi said that:
This new legislation significantly erodes the legal framework that has protected so many, exposing refugees to grave risks in breach of international law
Braverman’s beef with the Refugee Convention emerged in the context of this international criticism, alongside its current loss in the High Court over the legislation’s core Rwanda removal pillar. The Canary’s Alex/Rose Cocker also pointed out that Braverman’s knee-jerk reaction to these criticisms and legal challenges:
typifies Tory responses to social issues across the board. Rather than working to find a solution, they change definitions in order to sweep a problem under the rug.
As a result, they argued that:
To state this simply, the home secretary appears to prefer that the UK removes itself entirely from the Refugee Convention, rather than facing up to the fact that refugees are human beings in need of help.
Into the margins
Ultimately then, the Refugee Council’s newest findings are more of the same from the Tories’ bigot Britain. They’re exactly what you’d expect from a government with a prodigious rap sheet of failing refugees and asylum seekers at every turn.
Disappearing people into the margins of society has long been UK migrant policy writ large. From locking migrants up in abusive detention centres, to the Bibby Stockholm barge debacle and blatantly racist deportations, the ‘out of sight, out of mind – and not our problem’ policies highlighted by the Refugee Council are entirely on brand. The Tories can have that podium slogan for free – at least it’d be honest.
Feature image via UK House of Lords/Wikimedia, cropped and resized to 1910 by 1000, licensed under CC BY 2.0
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