NEWS & BLOG
15 March, 2023 - By West London Welcome Community
Statement on the ‘Illegal Migration Bill’
West London Welcome is deeply concerned by the UK Government’s publication of the new Illegal Migration Bill, which is incompatible with the 1951 Refugee Convention and risks breaching the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child*. The legislation would effectively mean a ban on claiming asylum for anyone arriving on or after 7 March 2023 who does not come here via one of very few formal resettlement routes, and appears to extend to children. We stand against the Bill and the harm it seeks to inflict on people seeking sanctuary here.
As a community of refugees, people seeking asylum, migrants and other locals, we support each other to reduce isolation, build inclusion and confidence, understand our rights, and live in dignity. This Bill, if passed, would make the lives of those who arrived after 7 March, and those yet to come, intolerably difficult.
Put yourself in the shoes of one of our community members. Chidi*, a young person who was trafficked here from Cameroon as a 17 year old unaccompanied child, managed to escape her traffickers before claiming asylum at the Home Office and was accommodated in West London. When we met Chidi, she was frightened, withdrawn, and found it difficult to trust others. She had no documentation because her trafficker had taken it from her. We welcomed her to our centre, supported her to get into education, found her a good lawyer, and she was taken into care by the Local Authority. She was determined by the Home Office to be a victim of trafficking. Despite her traumatic past, she is now a confident student who works hard at college, has made good friends through our centre, and wishes to train to become a nurse for the NHS one day.
Under the Government’s new legislation, Chidi would find herself unable to claim asylum because she arrived ‘illegally.’ The Home Secretary will have a duty to remove asylum-seeking people who come here in breach of immigration law, even if they are forced to come to the UK illegally due to their trafficking or modern slavery situations. Chidi’s asylum claim would be deemed ‘inadmissible’ and she would not have a right of appeal. The Home Secretary will also have a power to remove unaccompanied children, which will become a duty when children become 18. Rather than being taken into care by a Local Authority and accommodated in the community, Chidi would be detained and possibly live in Home Office-run reception centres for unaccompanied children, likely for months or years until the Government decided where to send her – to Rwanda or another deemed ‘safe country’. Since detaining trafficking victims can leave people traumatised and at risk of being re-trafficked***, Chidi would potentially be at risk of further exploitation. All the work we do with Chidi and other victims of trafficking, giving them the time and space to feel safe and belong to a supportive community, would simply not be possible if they are instead isolated, detained and in constant fear of being removed.
The long-term effects of the Government’s measures are chilling to contemplate. People will keep needing to seek sanctuary and these new measures will not change that. That people’s right to claim asylum will effectively end for those coming without permission, even if they have been forcibly brought here by traffickers or in modern slavery or as children, is an appalling attack on rights and the vital protections and legal obligations the UK developed for refugees after the Second World War. The legislation will affect all those coming by irregular means, not just those in small boats. We also know from talking to our community members that detention, especially of children, causes immense harm to people’s mental health and wellbeing, often for the rest of their lives.
A different way forward
It’s not too late for the Government to scrap this Bill. They could continue to protect people’s right to claim asylum, the right for people to access support as trafficking and modern slavery victims, and ensure asylum-seeking children continue to be supported by Local Authorities in communities.
Creating safe routes for people to come to the UK is the only practical and humane solution to ensure people are able to find sanctuary on these shores. By safe routes we mean that rather than having to come here by dingy or lorry because they have no other option, people can come through formal resettlement schemes or are granted humanitarian visas.
The UK hosts less than 1% of the global population of refugees – the numbers of people arriving here are not unmanageable. It is entirely possible for the Government to accommodate and support each and every one of them within communities. And the Government needs to start making quick decisions on asylum claims rather than forcing people to wait years for a decision – this is the only way to avoid the current backlog of cases and thousands living in near-destitution while they wait.
This Government can lead by example and show the world how to treat our most vulnerable – by letting them live in dignity in communities like ours, protecting their rights, and treating them with the compassion they deserve.
** Not her real name.