United Kingdom’s Illegal Migration Bill, 2023: Humanity at Crossroads

Surjit Raiguru 

Source: Reuters

In a triumph for the Rishi Sunak administration, the UK House of Lords approved the Illegal Migration Bill, a piece of legislation that would make it the Home Secretary’s “duty” to deport illegal immigrants from the country and dramatically alter current safeguards for asylum seekers. The Bill aims to discourage illegal immigration to the nation, notably by small boats.

UN Condemns UK Immigration Bill

In a compelling statement released by the United Nations on Tuesday, the UK Immigration Bill bore the brunt of criticism, facing scrutiny from none other than Volker Turk, the esteemed UN Human Rights Secretary General, and Fllippo Grandi, the revered UN Refugees Chief. With eloquence and authority, they jointly decried the bill, denouncing its blatant disregard for the nation’s solemn commitments under the aegis of international human rights and refugee law. Emphatically, they forewarned that the repercussions of such a legislative path would be dire for the countless souls yearning for protection from far-off shores. Grandi poignantly lamented that this very law, which the UK government contests, is undermining the very bastion of justice that has safeguarded innumerable refugees from grave peril. In a poignant reminder of the issue’s urgency, it was disclosed that a staggering 45,000 immigrants from Europe found themselves precariously landing on Britain’s shores through diminutive boats in the tumultuous year of 2022.

Compromising Parliamentary Scrutiny

The hasty passage of the Illegal Migration Bill through Parliament has significantly compromised Parliament’s ability to conduct thorough scrutiny of legislation proposed by the UK Government. Firstly, contrary to the customary practice of allowing two weekends between a Bill’s introduction and its second reading, the Government expedited the Bill’s Second Reading in the House of Commons without any evident justification. This rushed approach left limited time for Parliamentarians, civil society, and experts to thoroughly examine the Bill and prepare comprehensive responses. Secondly, the usual process of detailed consideration and evidence-gathering at the Committee Stage was curtailed. Instead, the Bill was allocated merely two days on the floor of the House of Commons, allowing for a mere twelve hours of debate. Such brevity severely hampered the opportunity for in-depth analysis and discussion. Thirdly, at the Report Stage in the Commons, the Government presented over one hundred amendments at short notice. These amendments covered both substantive and highly technical matters, some of which were of major constitutional significance. As a result, many Members of Parliament were left with only a few minutes to address their non-Government amendments.

Unravelling the Core Tenets, Its Infringement and Implications

There are grave concerns regarding the bill’s potential infringement upon the tenets stipulated in Article 31 of the esteemed 1951 Convention. Of particular note is the prohibition it establishes, which expressly forbids states from penalizing asylum seekers based solely on the manner of their irregular arrival. The recognition underlying this vital provision is rooted in the understanding that the act of fleeing persecution inherently necessitates irregular border crossings, and to penalize such vulnerable individuals for exercising their right to seek safety would constitute a grave breach of the spirit and essence of international refugee protection.

In its current iteration, the draft bill under consideration stands to fundamentally diminish the ability of the majority of refugees to avail themselves of their right to seek asylum within the United Kingdom. Such a development poses a significant threat to the overarching global framework that has been meticulously established to protect and shelter those compelled to escape from conflict and persecution. Foremost among the concerns raised by the bill is its apparent disregard for the Principle of Non-Refoulement, which stands as a cardinal obligation enshrined within Article 33(1) of the 1951 Refugee Convention. This critical tenet specifically mandates that individuals shall not, under any circumstances, be subjected to repatriation – either directly or indirectly – to a nation wherein their very lives and freedoms face grave peril. The bill’s disregard for the principle of non-refoulement, in particular, would send a clear message that the UK is no longer a safe haven for refugees.

Within the proposed bill, Clauses 2 to 4 exert a fresh obligation upon the Home Secretary, demanding the expulsion of those individuals who have entered or arrived in the United Kingdom by irregular means, without having originated directly from a territory where their personal well-being and liberty were imperilled. This imposition, in effect, renders the asylum claim of such individuals inadmissible without the opportunity for due consideration within the UK’s asylum system. Regrettably, this provision disproportionately affects a vast proportion of refugees seeking sanctuary in the UK, thereby effectively negating their inherent right to seek asylum on these shores. The bill does not allow for independent oversight of the Home Office’s decision-making, and it lacks effective remedies for those who are harmed by the bill. The root cause of this predicament lies in the stark reality that United Kingdom lacks sufficient safe and legal routes for refugees to enter, leading to the current asylum seeker dilemma. Furthermore, Clause 52 of the Bill marks a significant departure from the established legal principles within the United Kingdom, as it effectively extinguishes the authority of any UK court to grant interim remedies that may hinder or delay the removal of an individual from the country. In this manner, it undermines not only the Rule of Law but also seeks to erode the power vested in UK judges to assess and uphold the standards mandated by crucial pillars of jurisprudence, namely, International Human Rights Law, the Human Rights Act of 1998, and the tenets of the common law.

Threat to Separation of Powers

The essence of UK democracy lies in upholding a robust Separation of Powers. However, the Illegal Migration Bill undermines this critical principle by conferring excessive authority upon the UK Government, allowing it to assume the roles of legislator, adjudicator, and administrator. Such a power shift erodes the foundations of the UK’s constitution and democracy, posing a serious threat to the delicate balance and integrity of its governance.


The UK House of Lords’ approval of the Illegal Migration Bill, despite UN condemnation, raises grave concerns about its impact on asylum seekers’ rights, hasty parliamentary scrutiny, potential infringement on international conventions, and a threat to the separation of powers in the UK. This legislation jeopardizes the UK’s status as a safe haven for refugees and undermines fundamental principles of human rights and democratic governance.

Surjit Raiguru is a Third Year law student pursuing BA-LLB [H] from Symbiosis Law School, Pune, India