How the Illegal Migration Act affects vulnerable communities
Last updated 11 August 2023
The Illegal Migration Bill has now passed and has become law. But what will it actually mean for people who have fled their home countries?
What is the Illegal Migration Act?
In short, the Illegal Migration Act prevents people from claiming asylum in the UK, if they arrive through an ‘irregular’ route, without a legitimate visa.
This is despite the fact that safe routes are currently very limited. For those who wish to claim asylum in the UK, most will have no choice but to take dangerous routes. This new law will penalise them for how they arrive, without considering their potential need for protection.
It also means that anyone arriving in the UK without a visa will be unable to claim asylum, despite the majority of people being from countries like Sudan and Syria. These people, many of whom are fleeing conflict, are likely to be detained and left in limbo, unable to rebuild their lives.
The new law has been roundly criticised by humanitarian organisations, including the British Red Cross.
Certain UN agencies have also stated that that the Illegal Migration Act 'significantly erodes human rights'.
Alex Fraser, the British Red Cross’s UK director for refugee support and restoring family links, says:
“This is a dark day that will cause a wave of fear and uncertainty for people seeking protection from violence and persecution.
“Ultimately, this law makes it impossible for the vast majority of men, women and children to claim asylum in the UK.
“It's likely to leave many people, from places like Sudan and Syria, in detention, destitution and permanent limbo.
How will the new law affect vulnerable people seeking asylum in the UK?
Organisations supporting refugees and people seeking asylum in the UK have grave concerns around the Illegal Migration Act, including the British Red Cross.
They believe that some of the most vulnerable groups fleeing persecution are unlikely to get the life-saving protection they desperately need from the UK.
These groups include victims of trafficking and modern slavery, pregnant women and accompanied children, who will see their protections reduced under this new law.
The same applies to unaccompanied children, who will be detained as soon as they arrive, and can be removed as soon as they turn 18.
How will the Illegal Migration Act affect safe routes?
The new law also falls short of offering adequate safe routes into the UK. For the majority of people seeking asylum there are no safe routes to the UK, and it is not possible to claim asylum here in any other way.
The Act is also likely to prevent most people fleeing war and persecution from claiming asylum in the UK. This includes from countries like Afghanistan, Syria and Eritrea, where people are recognised as refugees.
The Act would also prevent many people fleeing Sudan from seeking asylum in the UK.
Without a legitimate visa, people seeking asylum could instead be detained, potentially removed, and unable to access protection.
The realities of war and persecution mean many forcibly displaced people cannot attain a visa because of the way they have had to flee their country, or because embassies often close in countries where there is conflict.
What is the British Red Cross’ response to the Illegal Migration Act?
Alex Fraser, British Red Cross’s UK director for refugee support and restoring family links, calls on the government to provide more safe routes and to urgently tackle the asylum backlog. He says:
“The UK should uphold the right to seek asylum and create more safe routes so fewer people fall into the hands of smugglers.
It should also tackle the immense backlog of existing asylum applications with more than 172,000 people waiting for their claim to be processed.
Fixing the backlog would solve many of the problems we’re seeing in the asylum system today.
“We would like to assure those affected by this development that Red Cross teams will still be there to provide support in the UK and around the world.”
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