The “senselessly cruel Act” called “Illegal Migration Bill” has passed all stages in the Parliament and received the Royal Assent amid outrage and concerns by refugee rights organisations. The British government has been criticized after announcing “unfair” plans to rise a public sector pay by increasing the fees charged to migrants for visa applications and NHS access as it’s trying new prison-like asylum accommodation.

The “Illegal Migration Bill” passed all the stages in Parliament on 18 July, which was described as a “dark day” by charities and campaign groups, while the Labour frontbencher Jess Phillips defined it as “a trafficker’s dream, a tool for their control”. The bill received the Royal Assent on 20 July, becoming the Illegal Migration Act 2023 despite the fact that “Ninety-two per cent of people arriving in small boat from 2018 to March 2023 claimed asylum; of the small share who had received a decision by March 2023, 86% received a grant of protection”. The bill will lead to an “immense human misery”, as said by the President of ECRE member Refugee Council, Enver Solomon. Under the bill, all arriving in the UK will face detention on arrival and swift removal despite the limited number of immigration detention places and the unlawfulness of Rwanda plan. Asylum seekers will also be left in limbo in poor-quality hotels or warehoused in vast accommodation centres in former military barracks in isolated rural areas, potentially leading to disappearances. The situation for children will worsen as the bill will “lead to a serious safeguarding crisis as they know children will simply disappear as they approach their 18th birthday, knowing they face expulsion”. The government was given permission to appeal a decision by the UK’s top declaring the Rwanda scheme unlawful. “Even if the supreme court rules in the government’s favour, it will be impossible for Rwanda to receive more than a few thousand people each year” Enver Solomon  stated, adding “Tens of thousand will be left in limbo in some sort of Home Office-procured accommodation”. “With no removals to Rwanda anytime soon, and nowhere to detain people, there’s no certainty about what happens next”, said Jon Featonby, policy officer at Refugee Council, adding that “The only main bit of the bill that comes into force at Royal Assent is the re-entry ban. This can apply to people who arrive in the UK from 7 March who are removed under the existing inadmissibility provisions (but those numbers are tiny)”.

The passage of bill triggered concerns and outrage from refugee rights organisations including the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) while Home Secretary Suella showed “determination” to “stop the boats” and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak expressed pride over the “toughest ever laws” that “send clear message to illegal migrants”. “The Bill denies access to protection in the UK for anyone falling within its scope – including unaccompanied and separated children – regardless of whether they are at risk of persecution, may have suffered human rights violations or whether they are survivors of human trafficking or modern-day slavery and may have other well-founded claims under international human rights and humanitarian law”, said UNHCR in a statement, underlining that such removals are “contrary to prohibitions of refoulement and collective expulsions, rights to due process, to family and private life, and the principle of best interests of children concerned”. Moreover, a coalition of 290 organisations in a statement said that the government’s “senselessly cruel Act” is an “attack” on human rights. “In abandoning the UK’s moral and legal obligations, the Act risks breaching multiple international human rights treaties including the Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights while shielding the Government from accountability. The UK Government has admitted that it cannot confirm if the Act is compatible with the UK’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights”, the statement reads.

The British government faced backlash after announcing “deeply unfair” and “deliberately divisive” plans to fund a public sector pay rise by increasing the fees charged to migrants for visa applications and NHS access. “Work and tourist visas will increase by 15 per cent and others will increase by at least 20 per cent. The immigration health surcharge will increase from £624 to £1,035 a year”, generating “£1 billion in revenue to “partly fund the pay uplift for public sector workers, including police, NHS staff, junior doctors, prison officers, the armed forces and teachers”. NGO, Right to Remain described the visa fee increase as a “cash-grabbing tactic designed to scapegoat migrants” which will force more individuals and families into poverty and “pit worker against worker and divide our communities”. Marta Foresti, founder and chief executive of the Lago Collective said that high visa costs would have a “negative impact on the UK’s ability to attract talent, workers and even tourists from Africa’s emerging economies”. “These are missed opportunities for the UK. These people are not going to shop in our shops; the artists are not going to play in our concert halls and investors will not invest in key businesses,” she said. The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said: “The UK already effectively taxes migrants twice for healthcare and has some of the most extortionate visa fees in Europe – a migrant family of four often has to pay about £50,000 over 10 years for the right to stay. This massive increase is simply unaffordable – it will price workers out of affording a visa and force thousands further into poverty during the cost of living crisis, or out of the country”.

A barge surrounded by 20-foot-high security fences and a heavy metal gate intended to receive up to 500 single male asylum seekers was docked in Portland on July 18 sparking criticism by human rights defenders. Bibby Stockholm is a boat over 93 meters with 222 cabins on three levels and each two-person cabin has a small flat-screen television screwed to the wall opposite the bunk beds that hasn’t been wired yet. While Home Office claims that the barge would provide “basic and functional” accommodation and “will serve to reduce the untenable pressure on the British asylum system and to reduce, for the taxpayer, the cost generated by the significant increase in crossings of the Channel”, government officials have refused to provide any detail about the figures behind their statement that the barge accommodation will be considerably cheaper than hotel rooms. While Professor at the University of Cambridge Irit Catz and other charities described the barge as a “floating concentration camp”, “disgrace” and the “most horrid examples of refugee architecture worldwide”, the deputy director for asylum accommodation Leanne Palk denied that the barge is a floating prison justifying that “People are free to come and go as they want, but we do have this secure fence line in place just so that people do not wander around the port”. Moreover, an ex-military airbase in Essex will be open to house asylum seekers despite locals saying that such accommodations are “stalag” and rights organisations referring to “cruelty” to hold already traumatised asylum seekers in conditions of “quasi-detention” in remote areas far from communities and support networks. High court judge’s ruled that two councils and a local resident can proceed with a legal challenge over the government’s plan to place thousands of asylum seekers on two military bases. Moreover, hotel rooms occupied by Afghan interpreters and soldiers who served with the British army are being cleared by the end of July to house people who came across the Channel in small boats, Labour accused ministers of “kicking them out onto the street”. Afghan representatives said the development pits Afghan refugees against each other and councils called the government to extend the deadline of the evictions as the plan is chaotic and filled with gaps. However, Minister Johnny Mercer defended the plan saying the government had been “extremely generous,” and extra funding would be given to councils to help people resettle. Peymana Assad, a Labour councillor of Afghan origin said that “Afghans are now at risk of homelessness” but Mercer sees no reason why any Afghan will face homelessness when they’re evicted from their hotels over the next six weeks and shifts all responsibility to local governments. Meanwhile, a judge has ruled that Braverman acted unlawfully in failing to provide basic support to asylum seekers, including young children and pregnant women and the payment system operated by the Home Secretary violated the law due to long delays in processing payment requests.

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