The so called Illegal Migration Bill is a new bill that was passed by Parliament in July. The Illegal Migration Bill was proposed to stop people crossing the channel in small boats. However, it has raised concerns within Parliament as well as from NGOs and the public about what it means for refugees and asylum seekers.

Related: Why Rishi Sunak’s Stop The Boats Bill won’t work 

What is the Illegal Migration Bill? 

The Illegal Migration Bill was introduced by the Home Secretary Suella Braverman in March 2023. The Bill seeks to change the law so that people who arrive in the UK by small boat crossings cannot claim for asylum or protection, regardless of their need for protection. These people will be indefinitely detained and eventually removed from the UK to a third country such as Rwanda, according to the Home Office. 

Politicians, NGOs and human rights groups have called the Bill an “asylum ban” because it prevents people fleeing war and persecution from claiming asylum in the UK and does not include provision for safe alternative routes by which refugees can travel. 

The White Cliffs of dover in the English channel
Since 2018, 56 people have drowned in the English Channel, including 11 children. Due to a lack of safe routes to claim asylum, people are forced to risk their lives to seek safety. 


What are small boat crossings? 

Small boats refer to vessels people are forced to use to make dangerous journeys across the English Channel. These vessels are usually inflatable boats, dinghies or kayaks, and not suited to the journey. 

Crossing the Channel in this way is very dangerous. Since 2018, 56 people have drowned in the English Channel, including 11 children. Due to a lack of safe routes to claim asylum, people are forced to risk their lives to seek safety. 

How many people cross the Channel on small boats? 

In 2022, 45,755 people arrived in the UK by small boat according to government figures. This means small boats arrivals amount to 3.8% of overall immigration to the UK which was 1.2 million in 2022. 

Why do people make dangerous crossings? 

The vast majority of the people who make small boat crossings are refugees, fleeing conflict and persecution. They will apply for protection in the UK, also known as asylum.  

Asylum is when an individual is given protection by another country because they cannot return home because of war, violence or persecution.  

Once the Home Office recognises that they are a refugee then they will be able to live and work in the UK. A refugee is an individual who cannot return home due to fear of death, violence or persecution. 

Most small boats arrivals claim asylum and are granted refugee status.90% of people who arrive by small boat apply for asylum and 3 out of 4 claims were approved by the Home Office in 2022. 

Under the new proposals would-be refugees will be denied the right to ask for protection, and instead detained and eventually removed from the country . This is why the Bill has been termed the Refugee Ban Bill. 

Are there alternative safe routes for refugees? 

Not currently. There are very few safe alternative routes for refugees to travel to the UK. The few existing resettlement routes are extremely restricted by nationality and number.  Moreover, there is no way for someone to claim asylum in the UK unless they are physically in the UK, and there is no asylum visa to allow someone to enter regularly in order to access this legal right. These are some of the reasons that people risk their lives in small boats.   

What will happen to refugees if the Illegal Migration Bill is passed? 

If the Bill is passed, people crossing the channel on small boats will be detained and removed to a third country, like Rwanda. There will be no opportunity for them to seek asylum in the UK. 

Currently it is most likely that they will be indefinitely detained rather than removed. This is because the only return agreement in place is with Rwanda, which is unlikely to be able to take all refugees arriving.  

How will people be detained, and for how long? 

The Bill allows for people to be detained indefinitely, including children.  

The Government is currently building and sourcing new detainment facilities including barges. The new system for housing and processing detainees could cost  £6 billion over two-years according to the Home Office.  

Can children be detained under the Bill? 

Yes children can be detained, which has raised concerns across the board. Conservative Peer Baroness Mobarik says that the government is not learning from mistakes of the past whereby child detainment amounted to “state-sponsored cruelty” leading to emotional distress, trauma and cases of suicide.  

Will the Illegal Migration Bill help with the existing asylum backlog? 

There is currently a large backlog of asylum claims that need to be processed. At the end of 2022 there were 161,000 people waiting for a decision on their asylum claim. These claims often take years to reach a decision. Only 1% of asylum seekers received a decision on their application in the past 12 months

In the meantime, asylum seekers awaiting a decision are not allowed to work. Not being able to generate an income means that they struggle to survive on £5.84 per day while they await the outcome of their claim which can take years.  

There is no sign that this Bill will help people in the current backlog to get a decision any faster so that they can move on with their lives.  

#RefugeesWelcome on the white cliffs of dover

What are people saying about the Illegal Migration Bill? 

The Refugee Council’s impact assessment of the Bill estimates that it will result in as many as 250,000 people (including 45,000 children) being detained or left destitute in state-provided accommodation, and that, in the first three years of this Bill’s operation, between £8.7bn to £9.6bn will be spent on their detention and accommodation. 

Immigration lawyer Colin Yeo has said that the Government’s belief that the new legislation will be a deterrent is misguided:  

“We are talking about a group of people who may have crossed deserts, put themselves in small boats already, dodged gangs and border guards alike and lived through unimaginable hardships on their journeys. They have sometimes watched friends, family members and fellow travelers die on these journeys. Over 26,000 have drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean since 2014.” 

The UNHCR has said that the Bill will amount to an asylum ban because there is no asylum visa or pathways for seeking asylum in the United Kingdom. They stress the importance of international cooperation and responsibility sharing when it comes to refugees, most of whom are hosted by low and middle income countries and are not seeking to come to the United Kingdom. 

The British Medical Association has said that ‘the Bill ... risks leaving people who are vulnerable, fleeing dangerous situations and who have often experienced trauma, subject to an environment where they are re-traumatised and unable to access the medical attention many desperately need.’ 

The Home Secretary was not able to confirm that the Bill is compatible with human rights law when introducing the proposal to Parliament. 

What is International Rescue Committee saying about the Illegal Migration Bill? 

Laura Kyrke-Smith, Executive Director of the International Rescue Committee UK has made the following statement and calls for alternative solutions:  

“There is a compassionate and effective alternative to the Bill. First, expand safe routes for those who need them. Second, fix the asylum system to ensure that claims are heard fairly and decisions are made quickly. Third, double down on diplomatic and humanitarian engagement to alleviate the crises that cause people to flee in the first place.” 

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