UNESCO RILA Statement as the Illegal Migration Act receives Royal Assent

Published: 20 July 2023

The Illegal Migration Act is a new piece of legislation that has been produced by the U.K. Government with the express intention of undermining the 1951 Refugee Convention. UNESCO RILA have been campaigning against this act and keep standing strong with refugees.

“Be just, and fear not”.

Shakespeare, Henry VIII, Act 3, sc. 2.


The Illegal Migration Act is a new piece of legislation that has been produced by the U.K. Government with the express intention of undermining the 1951 Refugee Convention. It is a domestic law that conflicts with a greater international law governing refugees. By taking this step to criminalize asylum and render the 1951 Refugee Convention obsolete, after over 70 years and after leading the production of the Convention, the U.K. is openly spearheading law-breaking violence.

The violence embedded by the authors and legislators in this domestic law-making is the latest culmination in the erosion of precious covenants produced at the end of the Second World War. It represents a Rule of Decrees, eroding the protections every person in the U.K. has enjoyed in the recent past. This is an act of breath-taking international irresponsibility and domestic selfishness against people seeking refuge and against future generations. It is a legislation that deprives people of their livelihoods.

There were 11 possible stages in the legislative process, and many more during the drafting stages of the bill, when it was possible for the Government to step back from this brink. Instead, the Government has chosen to use its majority to engage in a range of unprecedented actions that were not part of its manifesto commitments and therefore do not represent electoral choice. The Government failed to publish its impact assessments on time, neglected due diligence on the costing mechanisms, disregarded the increasingly urgent advice of immigration lawyers and judges ruling against the Home Office in numerous recent cases, and ignored the voices of the Special Rapporteurs and High Commissioner for Refugees—the highest advisors and diplomats for the United Nations.

As the House of Lords was finally deceived into sitting late into the night, the Bill passed its final stage and will receive Royal Assent. UNCHR and UNHRC issued a joint statement unequivocally condemning the legislation: "The Bill extinguishes access to asylum in the UK for anyone who arrives irregularly, having passed through a country—however briefly—where they did not face persecution". UN Refugee Agency and UN Human Rights Office warn of profound impact.

The verbs used alone in the statement demonstrate the great concern in the United Nations family over this action:



"Requires removal"

"Creates sweeping new detention powers"

"Significantly erodes"




"Drastically limits"

"Puts at risk"

"Exposes to risk"

"Sets worrying precedent"


With a founding member state using its legislative powers to undermine an established Convention, UNHCR faces an existential threat. Where the United Kingdom has led, other equally unprincipled regimes may follow. The 1951 Refugee Convention itself is now on life support.

What can be done?

"We are all wounded, but we can connect through the wound that alienated us from others. When the wound forms a cicatriz, the scar can become a bridge linking people who have been split apart". Gloria E. Anzaldúa, 2009

Despite the magnitude of the challenge and the omnipresence of violence, there are many things we can do with love and rage.

At an International Level:

  1. We urge the United Nations and its organs (UNHCR and UNHCR) to consider invoking Article 38 (Settlement of Disputes) to assess the extent of the breach of the Convention caused by the Illegal Migration Act. Article 38 of the 1951 Refugee Convention clearly states: "Any dispute between parties to this Convention relating to its interpretation or application, which cannot be settled by other means, shall be referred to the International Court of Justice at the request of any one of the parties to the dispute". While the U.K. is within its sovereign rights, however egregious they may seem, to create its own domestic legislation, international law is a different matter, and the U.K. must not be allowed to act with impunity and permanently erode international conventions.
  2. If it is found that the UK Act does indeed violate the letter and spirit of the Refugee Convention, the United Nations and its organs should consider what measures should be taken. This assessment should be made by UNHCR and the United Nations organs as it pertains to international conventions, not UK domestic law. The question of "the refugee" is a question of international law and conventions. Additionally, the United Nations should agree, as part of its continued solidarity with all countries accepting and processing asylum claims worldwide.

At a Domestic Level:

Domestically, for all those engaged in the work of hospitality and receiving those seeking asylum away from the violence of the state:

  1. Denounce the pernicious discourse of violence repeatedly and promote words of love and hospitality. Despair is optional.
  2. Small acts of resistance and neighbourliness are acts of courage and possibility.
  3. Dust yourselves down, watch for your rage spilling over, proceed gently, sustain yourself and others so that you are well in your service to others.
  4. Sharpen your analysis. Read reputable journalism and important books to see through deceptive discourse and propaganda serving violence. Listen instead to the first-hand stories people tell about their experiences in the asylum system.
  5. Support those engaging in legal action and legal education—familiarize yourself with the work of Right to Remain's toolkit.

In short:

If you are a university student, academic, or university staff, sign this petition calling on the Government to scrap the Illegal Migration Act.

In solidarity.

First published: 20 July 2023