UNESCO RILA Statement on The New Immigration Bill 7 March 2023

Published: 7 March 2023

The new immigration bill, introduced on 7th March 2023, less that 12 months since the Nationality and Borders Act received Royal Assent in 2022, is entitled the “Illegal Immigration Bill’ in the Home Secretary’s letter to MPs.

The new immigration bill, introduced on 7th March 2023, less that 12 months since the Nationality and Borders Act received Royal Assent in 2022, is entitled the “Illegal Immigration Bill’ in the Home Secretary’s letter to MPs. UNHCR UK have already issued a statement expressing their ‘profound concern’: 

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is profoundly concerned by the asylum bill introduced by the UK Government to the House of Commons today. In its current form, the Bill compels the Home Secretary to deny access to the UK asylum system to those who arrive irregularly. Rather than being provided with protection, these asylum-seekers would instead be subject to detention in the UK, while arrangements are pursued to remove them to another country.

It is critical that this name for the bill is addressed from the outset. No human being, in a context of human rights, is illegal. The term ‘illegal immigration’ has been deemed inaccurate and misleading by Associated Press as far back as 2013 and is being used here with the intent of inflaming an activist sector and stating that some humans are not human enough to be subjects of rights.

“The Stylebook no longer sanctions the term 「illegal immigrant」 or the use of 「illegal」 to describe a person. Instead, it tells users that 「illegal」 should describe only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally.”

The Home Secretary’s letter to MPs regarding the Bill states explicitly the intention to move away from laws which do not allow her to deport at will. This means that the UK will leave the Refugee Convention and no longer practice what it requires with regard to people seeking asylum. This was already present as a possibility in the Nationality and Borders Act and is now explicit.

It should be noted that the actual Bill’s Long Title is as follows:

“Long title

A Bill to Make provision for and in connection with the removal from the United Kingdom of persons who have entered or arrived in breach of immigration control; to make provision about detention for immigration purposes; to make provision about unaccompanied children; to make provision about victims of slavery or human trafficking; to make provision about leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom; to make provision about citizenship; to make provision about the inadmissibility of certain protection and certain human rights claims relating to immigration; to make provision about the maximum number of persons entering the United Kingdom annually using safe and legal routes; and for connected purposes.”

There are three clear points to be made about the new bill:

1) It is important we do not further normalise talk of ‘illegal immigrants’. The preferred term in academic literature is ‘irregular migration’ because it acknowledges that when fleeing persecution and subject to many precarious and difficult journeys, including often the loss of belongings and papers, many people end up without being able to easily prove who they are. This is ‘irregular’ but it is not a criminal act. It is not their fault and is often the only way they were able to stay safe. The ramped up rhetoric used to describe people seeking asylum is dangerous and must be resisted, and named for its inflammatory and often violence consequences. This includes the carelessness involved in naming a Bill The “Illegal Immigration Bill”. It is important that we continue to care for the words we use on the borders of people’s lives and assert the dignity of the whole human being. In this regard we must also avoid speaking overmuch of ‘humanising’ people. People are human and to do this suggests, as Hyab Yohannes as previously stated, that individuals receiving this treatment are somehow less than human and must be produced again as human. No human is illegal is a powerful slogan in the movement for migration justice. No Human is Illegal.

2) Lawyers will comment further on this but there is little in what is being proposed which is not already in existence in the law. The appeals against the Rwanda Deportation Plan are ongoing. This bill seeks, apparently, to allow the Home Sectretary to circumvent due process and due legal process including the process affirmed by the Supreme Court on the Rwanda plan – that each case must be examined on its individual merits. This is a vital element in the rule of law and its removal, as in this bill, is linked to the idea introduced in the bill that some human beings do not count as human for the purposes of their rights.

3) The bill is impractical, inoperable, and eye-wateringly expensive on given estimates, taking the asylum back-log into account. It will cost billions to bring a new detention and deportation infrastructure into being at scale. This is in addition to the millions already paid to the French authorities to prevent embarkation. The deterrent schemes do not work. The bill is providing an opportunity for the Government to repeat, again, the mantras which further inflame dissatisfaction and fear in key constituencies. This is irresponsible governance and risks public safety.

What can be done?

1) Watch the language, change the language, act to avoid repeating the same mantras which normalise language used to create bad laws or unsettle the public with ill -founded fears. The UNESCO Chair in Refugee Integration through Languages and Arts focuses on ways in which languages and arts can change perceptions and also care for people well. Listen to some of the podcasts.

2) Exercise rights to protest in Scotland and the right to engage law makers on this issue. Writing to both MPs and Lords outlining concerns, engaging faith groups and studying the issue whilst at the same time ensuring those at risk makes room for thought. “Evil” says the philosopher Hannah Arendt, in her famous quotation on the banality of evil, “comes from the failure to think” (Eichmann in Jerusalem). In Scotland, the New Scots Integration Strategy affirms the principle of integration from day one. This is placed at risk by the bill. Engage MSP and local councillors on this need to double down on the protection of this principle in Scotland.

3) Examine the plans in details, cost them out, become well acquainted with the facts. The Scottish Refugee Council has the information on numbers and statistics in Scotland and the UK, as does UNHCR UK and UNHCR on overall statistics and first destintions. Address the fear being produced by this bill, by facts and understanding.

First published: 7 March 2023