Britain’s controversial plan to deter undocumented migrants from landing on British shores was set to become law on Tuesday, drawing criticism from the United Nations.
The legislation would ban asylum claims from all arrivals via the English Channel and other “illegal” routes, and transfer them to third countries, such as Rwanda.
It was proposed in response to years of increasing numbers of hazardous cross-Channel travel from northern France in small boats.
Opposition to the bill was finally crushed late at night, just hours before a barge that will be used to house the migrants arrived at a port on the south coast of England.
The barge Bibby Stockholm moored in Portland harbour, Dorset, is expected to accommodate 500 asylum seekers from the end of the month.
The UN refugee agency condemned the passage of the government’s Illegal Migration Bill as a “breach of international law” and warned it would put refugees at “serious risk”.
“This new legislation significantly erodes the legal framework that has protected so many,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.
It also set “a worrying precedent for the dismantling of asylum obligations that other countries, including in Europe, may be tempted to follow”, added the UN human rights chief. , Volker Turk.
– Perilous journey –
Opponents in the unelected upper house had sought to sweeten the bill by proposing changes.
But amendments to parts of the legislation, including protections against modern slavery and limits on how long migrant children can be detained, were defeated in a series of votes.
The bill will now become law after the formality of “Royal Assent” from King Charles III.
More than 45,000 migrants arrived on the coasts of southeast England on small boats in 2022 – a 60% annual increase on a perilous route that has been used by more people every year since 2018.
Immigration – both legal and illegal – has long been a key political issue in the UK and was one of the main battlegrounds of the Brexit referendum in 2016, which saw the country leave the Union European.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who has pledged to “stop the boats”, insisted the Rwandan plan would have a significant deterrent effect by showing that no one who arrives in the UK illegally will be allowed to stay.
The UN, however, says the 1951 Refugee Convention “explicitly recognizes that refugees may be compelled to enter a country of asylum irregularly”.
The Conservative Government’s Home Secretary in the Upper House, Simon Murray, said the number of arrivals had “overwhelmed” the UK’s asylum system and cost taxpayers £6million (7, $8 million) per day in accommodation costs.
– Legal challenges –
“If people know there’s no way for them to stay in the UK, they won’t risk their lives and pay criminals thousands of pounds to get here illegally,” he said. -he declares.
“So it is normal that we stop the boats and break the business model of criminal gangs exploiting the vulnerable,” he added.
The Rwandan plan, announced last year by then Prime Minister Boris Johnson, was blocked at the last minute by the European Court of Human Rights, which is separate from the EU, and is still mired in legal challenges.
Last month, the British government said it would appeal a judgment by three Court of Appeal judges who ruled that Rwanda could not be considered a safe third country.
Sunak said he respects the court but “fundamentally” disagrees with the judges’ findings.
To date, no deportation flights to Rwanda have taken place.
Rights groups accuse Rwanda – ruled with an iron fist by President Paul Kagame since the end of the 1994 genocide that killed an estimated 800,000 people – of suppressing free speech and opposition.