British government’s “Illegal Migration Bill” continues to receive severe critique as EU to team up with “friends” on cross-channel migration. Home Secretary is accused of being “racist” and “economically illiterate” for claiming that migrant labour harms the UK’s ‘national character’ in a speech at the National Conservatism conference. Ministers are removing basic housing protections from asylum seekers.
The British government has been under fire after debating the Illegal Migration Bill in the House of Lords on 8 May. A coalition of 175 civil society organisations, in a statement, urged the government to withdraw the bill. “This Bill attacks the very core of human rights, which is the fundamental belief that we all have human rights regardless of who we are or where we are from. Instead, it separates people into categories of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ of human rights. In stripping the most basic rights from people seeking safety and a better life, the Bill dismantles human rights protections for all of us”. The United Nations Association (UNA-UK) expressed concerns about the consequences of the bill that “mounts to an asylum ban” saying “This proposed legislation is a reckless attempt to combat the policy failures of successive UK governments while dehumanising and criminalising refugees. In testing the limits of international law and doing so with apparent relish, the UK undermines its credibility as a champion of a rules-based international order and leader on human rights”. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, described the bill as a “short-term fix”, adding that it was “morally unacceptable and politically impractical” for the UK to “let the poorest countries deal with asylum seekers when the UK is cutting its international aid spending”. The bill represents a “dramatic departure” from existing conventions and therefore, would damage the UK’s reputation, Welby added. “The illegal immigration bill is designed to meet not the “will of the British people” but the Tories’ political needs. And even in that it will fail”, writes Kenan Malik in an op-ed. ECRE Director, Catherine Woollard in an editorial wondered: “Is it not possible that, even in the midst of a largely self-inflicted poly-crisis, the world’s sixth richest country, with 1.3 million job vacancies, one of the most multicultural countries in the world, might just be able to manage to host refugees, primarily from Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Eritrea, Sudan, Iraq – countries where the UK has a little history, recent and distant, rarely glorious – whether they arrive by boat or by plane?”.
Ahead of the Council of Europe summit on 16 May, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak stated that he will use the meeting to advance his government’s plans to “stop the small boats” and deport people to Rwanda. Sunak reportedly plans to call for a reform of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), in particular regarding Rule 39 – interim measures often used to suspend expulsion or extraditions of asylum seekers at risk of persecution upon forced deportation or return. ECtHR has blocked deportations from UK to Rwanda through interim measures. Iceland’s foreign minister, Thordis Gylfadottir, however said that the summit “would not be used to reform the rules covering the kind of orders that prevented the first deportation flight from taking off last year”. Sunak reportedly plans to warn the European leaders that the international system for migration is “not working”. “We need to do more to cooperate across borders and across jurisdictions to end illegal migration and stop the boats,” Sunak will say, according to pre-released remarks. Moreover, Sunak held a series of one-on-one meetings outside the main summit to discuss “illegal migration” – including with President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen. Following talks with von der Leyen, Downing street announced that the UK and EU will “strengthen cooperation” on migration including a partnership between British agencies and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) to “tackle cross-border crime and people trafficking”. “Friends, the U.K. may have left the EU, but we have not left Europe. We remain a proud European nation,” Sunak said. “And we must work together to defend the values we all hold so dear.”
Home Secretary Suella Braverman in her speech at the National Conservatism conference on 15 May said that migrant labour harms the UK’s ‘national character’ and that Brits are “forgetting how to do things for ourselves”. ” The problem is that we don’t have enough people available to do them”, commented the Guardian. She said that there is “no good reason” the UK cannot train its own lorry drivers and fruit pickers to achieve her “ultimate aspiration” that’s cutting migration down. Some senior Conservatives believe more immigration is needed in the short term to boost economic growth. Trade Minister Nigel Huddleston said, “In the long term, we need immigration to come down because that’s what has been causing some challenges in local areas for a long period of time”. Her speech was described as “sickeningly racist, economically illiterate, and in denial over the damage Brexit has caused” by Journalist Paul Mason. “When Suella Braverman says that British workers have forgotten how to do things for themselves it’s nothing new. It’s how they respond to everything. Duck responsibility. Blame everyone else,” Labour leader Keir Starmer said. Braverman argued: “It’s not xenophobic to say that mass and rapid migration is unsustainable in terms of housing supply, service and community relations”. Meanwhile, lawyers and faith organisations have lodged a complaint with the Bar Standards Board claiming the home secretary, a qualified barrister, has breached the body’s code of conduct with “racist sentiments and discriminatory narratives”. Braverman’s comments “are not only highly inaccurate and offensive, but they also perpetuate harmful stereotypes and contribute to a climate of hate and prejudice,” the complaint letter states.
Ministers are removing basic housing protections from asylum seekers under new rules designed to move tens of thousands out of hotels and into the private rented sector. The changes would exempt landlords from obtaining a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) licence aimed at governing housing conditions, from electrical safety to minimum room sizes. “Without HMO licences, already traumatised people will be at risk of living in places that are unfit for human habitation”, said Mary Atkinson from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants. Eviction letters have been sent under the name of the Home Secretary to Afghan families living in either temporary accommodations or hotels in Yorkshire. “When you receive a housing offer from us, it is strongly advised that you accept so that you can start your settled life in the UK”, the letter reads. “This will be the fourth time that some of the families have been forced to move home, sometimes leaving jobs and schools, since being airlifted out of Kabul to the UK in August 2021”. Mohammed, one of the Afghan residents said: “There has been problems for all of us – with either the guarantor, the deposit or the eligibility of the local authority, or not having a job. This has all been made worse because we have been moved from London to Yorkshire, leaving jobs and contacts behind.”
For further information:
- ECRE, Editorial: Wait… are WE the Baddies Now? Episode 2: the UK Surpasses DK, 12 May 2023
- ECRE, UK: Coastguard “Effectively” Ignores Distress Calls of People Crossing the Channel, Home Office Describes Return of Albanians as “Milestone” While Albanian Prime Minister Denounces UK, Officials Told to Look at “All Options” to House People Caught in Backlog, 5 May 2023