A European human rights commissioner has warned UK parliamentarians, before a debate on the government’s illegal migration bill, to uphold international obligations when scrutinising the proposed legislation.
In a letter to the House of Commons and House of Lords published on Monday, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, Dunja Mijatović, said: “It is essential that parliamentarians prevent legislation that is incompatible with the United Kingdom’s international obligations being passed.”
She warned “the bill’s provisions create clear and direct tension with well-established and fundamental human rights standards” and said that by preventing people who arrive irregularly in the UK from having their asylum claims assessed, the bill would strip away one of the essential building blocks of the protection system. She said passing the bill would add to the already significant regression in the protection of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in the UK in the last few years.
According to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), the bill would effectively bar many people seeking sanctuary from claiming asylum in the UK. In a statement, the UNHCR said: “The legislation, if passed, would amount to an asylum ban – extinguishing the right to seek refugee protection in the United Kingdom for those who arrive irregularly, no matter how genuine and compelling their claim may be, and with no consideration of their individual circumstances.”
In her letter, Mijatović raised concerns about the lack of guarantees that objections to removal would be assessed fully in accordance with the standards set out in the European convention on human rights (ECHR), the exclusion of most potential victims of trafficking from modern slavery protections, the widespread powers of detention, and strict limits on judicial challenges to detention, and warned the bill would reverse progress made in reducing the harmful practice of detaining children.
She said there was a risk the bill could leave large numbers of people in legal limbo and she reiterated the importance of safe and legal routes as a credible alternative to dangerous, irregular Channel crossings.
Legal experts have cast doubt on the UK’s claims of “possible reforms” to European court of human rights procedures that stopped an asylum seeker from being deported to Rwanda last year.
During a two-day visit to the country’s capital, Kigali, Suella Braverman told a selected group of government-friendly papers that she was “encouraged” by the government’s “constructive” talks with Strasbourg to overhaul court injunctions. An ECHR injunction last June prevented an Iraqi national from being deported from the UK to the east African country.
But legal experts have questioned whether the Strasbourg court would weaken a mechanism intended to protect people facing an “imminent risk of irreparable harm”, with one saying an apparent plan to ignore ECHR injunctions would be a “significant and dark turning point in [the UK’s] history”.
At stake is the ECHR’s rule 39, which allows a judge to impose an injunction pending further legal proceedings to decide on the merits of a case.
These interim measures are typically used to suspend an expulsion or extradition, often by asylum seekers who fear persecution if they are returned to their home country. Between 2020 and 2022, the ECHR granted 12 of 161 applications for interim measures against the UK government.