The Migration Bill to “stop small boats” crossing the channel punishes people trying to seek protection in the UK, having fled conflict and crisis. Here are three alternative solutions to the Bill.

What’s the new migration Bill?

As people continue to risk their lives crossing the English Channel in search of safety, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has announced new plans to ‘stop the boats’.The UK Government’s new migration Bill intends to stop people arriving by boat from claiming asylum in the UK, effectively banning them from receiving protection in the country because of their mode of arrival. Rather than be able to request protection here, the Bill will mean that people who cross the channel will be detained and then deported to Rwanda or another country “as soon as reasonably practicable”.

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Why won’t the new Bill work?

None of us want people to risk their lives crossing the channel. But the Bill does not address the reasons people take these journeys in the first place. Without creating safe routes, asylum visas, or other alternative options to these crossings, the UK Government’s new plan will be ineffective, and moreover, it limits access to protection for those in need. Here are three reasons why:

Most people arriving by boat are given asylum in the UK

More than 90% of people who have arrived in the UK by boat since 2018 claimed asylum, and most have had their asylum claims granted. Without an asylum visa, people fleeing conflict and crisis cannot pre-emptively apply to claim asylum from their home country. As conflicts continue, people will continue to risk their lives as their only option, hoping to find safety and security in a new country.

In 2022, 1 in 5 people arriving by boat were from Afghanistan, a country from which 98% of asylum applications are granted. 

It breaches the UK obligations under the Refugee Convention

The UNHCR has said that the legislation would amount to an asylum ban, which would be in breach of the Refugee Convention. As a signatory, the UK has a duty to follow the obligations set out there. Despite the Home Secretary Suella Braverman stating her confidence that the Bill is compatible with international law, any ban would be problematic as it does not allow for decisions to be made on a case-by-case basis. And because everyone has the right to claim asylum anywhere, refugees are not obligated to claim asylum in the first safe country they arrive in. This means people arriving in the UK from France have every right to claim asylum here. Many have friends or family already in the UK or speak English due to their education or professions back home. When you think about it like this, it makes every sense for people to want to claim asylum somewhere they genuinely feel safe. 

The same plan has failed elsewhere

In countries like Australia, where offshore processing centres for asylum seekers were established, people still continue to risk their lives in boats in search of safety. Without alternative, safe routes to claim asylum, people will continue to risk everything, even death, to find the safety and stability they need to restart their lives somewhere else. 

Plus, it is unclear how anyone could be removed elsewhere. All removals have been halted to Rwanda due to ongoing legal challenges. And the option of “another safe country” fails in practice, as there are no current agreements with other countries for this to happen. So, there is a question of where people seeking asylum would be removed too.


The Solution: How to effectively ‘stop the boats': 

Instead of punishing refugees and people forced to cross the Channel by small boats, there are a handful of effective changes that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak could make that would ensure the safety of those seeking asylum and create a more humane asylum system in the UK. Here are 3 ways to reduce the number of people risking their lives on small boats: 

Uphold the right to asylum

The Government should allow people who arrive irregularly to make an asylum application and should consider it based on that person’s need for protection, not deny protection simply because of how they arrived.

Provide safe routes for people seeking asylum 

The most effective way to tackle dangerous journeys is to ensure there are safe routes for people to claim asylum in the UK. The current system means that people must be in the UK to claim asylum, but there is no safe way to get to the country to do that. One option could be an asylum visa, which would allow people to make applications from abroad or while they are making the journey to the UK. This would mean they aren’t forced to make dangerous journeys crossing the channel.

Invest in the current system and let refugees flourish in the UK 

The UK plan to deport people to a third country is incredibly expensive; for instance, the Rwanda Plan has already cost around £140 million. These resources would be better spent by the UK government on resourcing our current asylum system so applications are processed swiftly, properly and effectively. Many people are stuck waiting for their asylum decisions for months and even years. While they wait, asylum seekers are banned from working and contributing to their community and the economy.

The IRC is proud to be part of the #LiftTheBan coalition working to ensure that people seeking safety in the UK are given the right to work.

The government must listen to the public who support welcoming refugees and accept shared responsibility

With the grim milestone of over 100 million people displaced worldwide, it is more important than ever that the UK shares responsibility for protecting refugees. 

The majority of refugees are hosted in the neighbouring countries to where they fled from, and a relatively small number of refugees claim asylum in the UK even compared to other European countries like Germany, which had more than double the number of applications in 2022.

It’s clear from the response to recent crises in Ukraine and Afghanistan that the British public wants to do more to help people fleeing conflicts. Most of those seeking asylum here have faced multiple traumas in their home country and along their journey. We must treat refugees with compassion. With the right support, new arrivals will thrive in their new communities and contribute to society in the UK.