Hilary Benn - Member of Parliament for Leeds Central
Many constituents have contacted me about the Illegal Migration Bill.
I am strongly opposed to this Bill. It is unjustifiable and unworkable, and I voted against it at 2nd Reading on 13 March 2023.
I recently returned from Brussels having crossed the Channel on the Eurostar and there in the arrivals hall was a poster asking anyone who thinks they are a victim of human trafficking to tell someone so they can get help. And as I stood there, I realised that this Bill will mean that someone who has been trafficked and who had made the exact same journey as I had across the Channel that Friday is no longer able to ask for help because this Bill will prevent any claims for asylum, refugee status or modern slavery from almost anyone who arrived “unlawfully” after 7th March. Instead they face detention and deportation.
How on earth can this be justified? It is frankly shameful.
Let me begin by saying that I believe in immigration control and those who do not have a genuine asylum, refugee or trafficking claim – ie those who are actually seeking to come here to work without applying in the normal way – should be identified and sent home.
The reason why there are so many asylum seekers and refugees living in hotels is because the Government has lost control of the asylum system. There is a huge backlog of cases and this Bill is only going to make matters worse, whereas, if the Government dealt with the backlog, then there would no longer be any need for people to be living in hotels at significant expense.
But this Bill isn’t about that. It says to any refugee or asylum seeker who gets here from anywhere by any means – but who does not have an entry visa – ‘you are a criminal’, even though the Government knows that between 60%-70% of those crossing the Channel in boats have genuine claims. They know this because the Home Office has granted them shelter in this country.
Where would this Bill have left all those refugees in the past who have sought shelter in our United Kingdom because they were fleeing violence or persecution for who they are or what they believe, and to whom we were once proud to give a warm welcome ? And what does it say to desperate people if they manage to make a long and possibly dangerous journey and then dare to get into a rubber dinghy for the final stage across the Channel because they may have a relative here, or may speak English, or have heard what a wonderful country this is ? You will be sent off to a detention camp to await deportation regardless of how compelling your case is.
This Bill is not consistent with our international obligations. That’s why the Home Secretary was forced to state on the face of the Bill: “I am unable to make a statement that, in my view, the provisions of the Illegal Migration Bill are compatible with the Convention rights” (a reference to the European Convention on Human Rights). And when it comes to the 1951 Refugee Convention, this is what United Nations High Commission for Refugees has 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 compelling their claim may be. The effect of the bill would be to deny a fair hearing and to deny protection to many genuine refugees in need of safety and asylum. This would be a clear breach of the refugee convention.”
What’s more, we have a Home Secretary who uses inflammatory language and who is on record as supporting the UK pulling out of the European Convention on Human Rights – a step to which I am completely opposed.
So this Bill is not just immoral. It is also unlawful. And what’s more it isn’t going to work, and ministers must know this however much they may say and pretend otherwise.
Where are they going to hold 40,000 people a year? How will they be removed? Where will they go? Rwanda? The Home Secretary says that the numbers who can be sent there under their Agreement is uncapped, and that they have considerable capacity. But she has refused to say how big that capacity is. The Rwanda scheme is wrong and it will not work.
A much more effective approach would be to crack down on criminal smuggler gangs through a new cross-border police unit; speed up processing to clear the backlog and end hotel use; reform resettlement schemes to stop people getting into boats and being exploited by criminal gangs – for example by sorting out the problems with the Afghan Resettlement Scheme and providing for refugees with family connections in the UK to be able to apply for resettlement here; get new agreements on returns and family reunion with France and other European countries, or the EU as a whole; and tackle humanitarian crises at source by helping refugees in their region
The truth is that the more you look at this Bill, the less credible it is. It is indefensible. It is unworkable. And the Government should think again.
MP for Leeds Central