UK Commons approves controversial asylum bill


The United Kingdom’s lower house of Parliament has approved a new bill that will significantly restrict the ability of migrants to seek asylum in the country. The Illegal Migration Bill was passed by a vote of 289 to 230, with the government accepting several amendments from rebel Conservatives who claim it will deter tens of thousands of people from attempting to enter the country each year. Once the bill becomes law, anyone who arrives in the UK on small boats will be prevented from claiming asylum and will be deported either back to their home country or to a so-called safe third country, such as Rwanda. They will also be banned from ever re-entering the UK.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made this bill one of his five key priorities, and last year, the government made it a criminal offence for individuals to arrive in the UK without a visa or special permission. However, the bill still faces strong opposition in the House of Lords, where it can only be amended or delayed but not blocked.

Critics and some charities have argued that the proposals are impractical and unethical, and that they demonise refugees. They say that people fleeing war and persecution cannot be sent back to their home countries, and that a UK plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda is mired in legal challenges, leaving migrants trapped in UK detention centres with no way out. Lawmakers rejected several opposition amendments that would have watered down the bill, including changes to exempt pregnant women and children from detention. The bill also bars people who are victims of human trafficking from using Britain’s modern slavery laws to prevent deportation.

The United Nations refugee agency has criticised the bill as a “clear breach” of the international Refugee Convention, and the British government has conceded that it may breach the UK’s international refugee and human rights obligations. However, it is determined to fight legal challenges.

Despite receiving fewer asylum seekers than other European nations such as Italy, Germany, and France, the UK has seen a significant increase in the number of people arriving in small boats. More than 45,000 people arrived in the UK in dinghies and other small boats in 2022, up from 8,500 in 2020. Refugee groups say that most of these arrivals are fleeing war, persecution, or famine in countries such as Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq, and that they risk the dangerous cross-channel journey because there are few safe, legal ways to reach the UK. A majority of those whose claims have been processed were granted asylum in Britain.

The bill’s passage through Parliament has been controversial, with opposition lawmakers and charities arguing that it is inhumane and breaches international law. However, the government maintains that it is necessary to deter illegal migration and protect the UK’s borders. The bill will now go to the House of Lords, where it is likely to face further opposition and amendments before becoming law.