In early 2023, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak unveiled his “Stop the Boats” plan as one of his top five pledges to the British public, which aims to address the issue of unauthorised border crossings via the English Channel and strengthen the UK’s immigration policies.
In the previous year, approximately 46,000 individuals were identified as having crossed the Channel in small boats, mainly originating from countries such as Iran, Albania, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, seeking asylum within the UK.
Several human rights organisations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have criticised many of the new policies enacted by the government in recent years, saying the UK is “abandoning its duties towards refugees” and calling the passing of the latest migration bill a “bleak day for human rights.”
Illegal migration is unfair on everyone.
— UK Prime Minister (@10DowningStreet) August 8, 2023
One of the latest instances of controversy emerged when UK Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick declined to rule out the possibility of withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), saying the government would do “whatever is necessary” to protect the borders.
The ECHR is an international treaty established in 1950 by the Council of Europe (which is separate from the European Union that the UK voted to leave in 2016), aimed at safeguarding fundamental human rights and freedoms across its member states.
A departure from the ECHR would make the UK one of the few European nations, alongside Russia and Belarus, not to have signed the convention.
Nevertheless, the BBC reports that there are other senior conservatives suggesting the party would campaign to leave the ECHR unless the Rwanda flights are unblocked.
In the past, Home Secretary Suella Braverman has voiced support for leaving the convention.
Echoing this sentiment, Jonathan Gullis, Conservative MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, remarked: “Time and again we see the quasi-legislative European Court of Human Rights continue to undermine the government’s plan to stop the boats.”
However, as the Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, commented:
“If the government wants to address problems in the asylum system, it can do so by bringing down the case backlogs and addressing the issues with the Illegal Migration Act. These will not be tackled by leaving an extremely successful international agreement designed to protect individual rights and support political stability.”
Here is a closer look at the most recent developments in the UK’s immigration policies:
The UK’s Immigration Policies: The Rwanda Asylum Plan
The Rwanda-UK asylum agreement, signed in April 2022, is part of the UK-Rwanda Migration and Economic Development Partnership.
As part of the agreement, the UK will be able to transfer individuals identified as illegal immigrants or asylum seekers to Rwanda for processing, asylum assessment, and resettlement.
Unsurprisingly, the deal has been met with criticism from various refugee and human rights organisations, arguing that it breaches the 1951 Refugee Convention, which safeguards refugees from penalisation for their mode of entry or transfer to places where persecution or discrimination could be a risk.
Furthermore, Rwanda’s suitability as a secure destination for asylum seekers due to its history of genocide, human rights abuses, and political repression is met with scepticism.
The first planned flights departing to Rwanda were stopped in June 2022 by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) due to concerns about the legitimacy of the Rwanda policy.
In July 2023, the UK Court of Appeal also deemed the scheme unlawful, saying that Rwanda is not a safe third country.
The government has said that it will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.
The Bibby Stockholm
The Bibby Stockholm serves as a floating barge deployed by the UK government to shelter certain asylum seekers who entered the country illegally.
Stationed at Portland Port, Dorset, the barge has a capacity of accommodating up to 500 individuals.
The barge has faced a lot of criticism due to substandard living conditions and concerns related to human rights implications.
Everyone deserves to seek asylum safely. 📢
We have signed an open letter by @migrants_rights calling for the Government and Labour to abandon support for unsafe accommodation – including barges.
— Public Law Project (@publiclawprojct) August 9, 2023
The Fire Brigades Union, for instance, has labelled these barges housing asylum seekers as “a potential deathtrap.”
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In addition, the mayor of Portland, Carralyn Parkes, commented: “The Bibby Stockholm is not a suitable place to house asylum seekers. It is still not too late to stop this. Human beings belong in communities.”
The Nationality and Borders Act
The Nationality and Borders Act, enacted by the UK Parliament in April 2022, came into force on July 6, 2023.
BREAKING🚨: The Borders Bill has received Royal Assent to become law 🇬🇧
This landmark Act will allow us to fix our broken asylum system so we can better support those in genuine need of asylum through safe and legal routes.#NewPlanForImmigration pic.twitter.com/ZIsIwbqB4e
— Home Office (@ukhomeoffice) April 28, 2022
The Act establishes a two-tier system for asylum seekers based on their method of entry into the UK – namely, illegal entrants or legal entrants, with illegal entrants not being eligible for asylum, modern slavery protection, human rights claims, or staying in the UK.
Furthermore, this new UK immigration policy introduces alterations to elements of nationality and citizenship, including granting the Home Office the authority to revoke citizenship without prior notice under exceptional circumstances.
Again, the Act has sparked much controversy and encountered opposition from various refugee and human rights organisations.
Amnesty International stated: “Disqualifying people’s asylum claims en masse regardless of the strength of their case is a blatant assault on international law and is a failure of UK leadership.”
The Nationality and Borders Act, now passed into law, will devastate the lives of men, women and children. More than 19k people fleeing war, conflict and bloodshed could face years in prison at a cost of £835m/year.
— Refugee Council 🧡 (@refugeecouncil) May 11, 2022
Where are the UK Immigration Policies Headed?
As part of Brexit, the UK government has promised its citizens to restore control over borders, including stopping illegal migration.
Surprisingly, in a discussion with former Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, Lee Anderson, a Tory MP and Deputy Chair of the Conservative party, admitted:
“This is out of control, we are in power at the moment, I am the deputy chair of the Conservative party, we are in government and we have failed on this. There is no doubt about it.”
Meanwhile, the Labour Party has been ahead in the polls, and Sunak’s government is under increasing pressure to win back voters.
Seeking safety isn't a choice. pic.twitter.com/cHM0okvRk3
— UNHCR United Kingdom (@UNHCRUK) August 5, 2023
Importantly, the language employed by both the government and Rishi Sunak raises concerns about the sensitivity and inclusivity of the approach being taken.
The distinction drawn between “genuine refugees” and “illegal migrants” accompanied by the assertion that the latter are “jumping the queue” at a time when numerous individuals are forced to leave their homes due to conflict, violence, poverty, and climate change, simply is worrying.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Refugees on a boat crossing the Mediterranean sea, heading from Turkish coast to the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos, 29 January 2016. Featured Photo Credit: Mstyslav Chernov.