Legal experts voice concerns over UK government’s immigration legislation

Legal experts voice concerns over UK government’s immigration legislation

Recent UK government legislation relating to asylum and migration introduced as a part of their plan to ‘stop the boats’ has been described as “alarming”, “dehumanising” and incompatible with the country’s domestic constitutional norms and international legal obligations.

The Illegal Migration Act 2023 and the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill are among those described as “legally and economically unworkable” and potentially undermining the country’s humanitarian reputation.

These are the conclusions of a collective of law experts at prominent UK universities and third sector immigration organisations, who have also called for the establishment of “safe legal routes” for asylum seekers to prevent further loss of life at sea.

Among the signatories of the Statement of Consensus, which has been published via the Immigration Law Practitioners Association, are representatives from the Universities of Exeter, Oxford Brookes, Sussex, Reading, Portsmouth, London and Manchester Metropolitan. It follows a workshop in which the collective examined the legislation.

“The system of international asylum is based upon principles of compassion and fairness,” says Dr Raawiyah Rifath, lecturer in law, at the University of Exeter. “Even if the Illegal Migration Act was workable, it falls very far below this test and the standard one would expect of a liberal democracy.”

The statement consists of 16 points highlighting how the recent legislation has impacted the UK’s compliance with international law obligations, domestic constitutional norms, and values of justice, decency and fairness.

It is critical of the language and terminology of “illegal migration”, which it says is “dehumanising and legally imprecise” and fails to recognise that those fleeing persecution cannot be penalised for entering a country via whatever means necessary that is a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention.

The authors say that the Illegal Migration Act is not compatible with that convention, nor a host of other international laws, including the European Convention on Human Rights; the 1987 European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; and the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Along with the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, the Illegal Migration Act has “fundamentally altered the operation of the UK’s asylum system in an illogical manner”, the authors say, creating bespoke processes for those fleeing from particular sites of crisis.

Limitations to the amount of time individuals have to build their case have also been challenged, with the authors saying that they could exacerbate the backlog of asylum claims instead of reducing them.

“This statement is intended to be constructive and to offer expert legal advice to whichever forthcoming government has the responsibility of re-examining the asylum system,” adds Dr Alex Powell, senior lecturer in law, Oxford Brookes University. “Whatever happens in the future, our conclusion is that we need to re-establish a just and fair system.”

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