The ‘Small Boats’ Illegal Migration Act
As a Jewish community, we understand from experience that people seeking safety in the
UK deserve dignity and compassion.
On 20 July 2023, the UK passed a significant law known as the ‘Illegal Migration Act 2023’. It amounts to a ban on seeking asylum in the UK for anyone who arrives irregularly, treating them with suspicion, punishment and cruelty. Instead of providing routes to safety for people, this law enables the government to refuse asylum claims, leaving individuals without legal status and exposed to risks like detention, deportation, and exploitation.
The Act abandons the UK’s moral and legal obligations under the Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights – both cornerstones of our democracy, drafted in response to the atrocities committed in the Holocaust.
In stripping the most basic rights from people seeking safety and a better life, the Act dismantles human rights protections for all of us.
Summary of the Act
• The Illegal Migration Act seeks to make any asylum application made by someone who arrives illegally in the UK permanently inadmissible, even if they come directly from a country where their life and liberty are at risk, including those made by both accompanied and separated children.
•‘Illegally’ includes crossing the channel on a small boat or the back of a lorry.
• People entering the UK ‘illegally’ will face permanent bans from returning.
• The Act also outlines the arrangement for the removal, to a third safe country of anyone arriving irregularly, except for unaccompanied children (under the age of 18). The Home Office considers Rwanda to be a safe country.
• In April 2023 the UK’s Court of appeal ruled that the Rwanda Plan as it stands is unlawful as it would risk breaching people’s human right to be free from inhuman or degrading treatment.
• The Act grants the Home Secretary extensive powers to detain people, including children, with no time limits applying, and imposes strict limits on the ability to be granted bail in the first 28 days of detention (with the exceptions of pregnant people and children).
• The Act could create permanent blocking of asylum applications, which could me that accommodation and support costs escalate as this group is accommodated indefinitely.
• The Act breaches the UK’s obligations under the UN Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights.
• The Illegal Migration Act excludes people subject to it from Section 3 of the UK’s Human Rights Act, which obliges UK courts and local authorities to protect everyone’s human rights- it is the first time the UK has excluded a specific group of people from basic human rights protections,
and it sets an incredibly dangerous precedent, with life-threatening consequences.
• Modern slavery referrals and support for ‘illegal’ entrants will be disqualified, even if someone is considered a victim of trafficking or modern salary under the Modern Slavery Act 2015. • Women fleeing genocide, war, rape, torture and trafficking will be prevented from seeking sanctuary in the UK. This will undoubtedly place them at serious risk of further harm. • By shutting the doors on people who need support, the government is forcing people who are in desperate situations to live without legal status – under constant threat of detention and deportation, and vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation.
An Attack on a Jewish Legacy
• The modern human rights framework, including the 1952 Refugee Convention and 1953 European Convention on Human Rights are a direct response to the atrocities of Holocaust.
• The UK could leave the European Convention on Human Rights: On several occasions Conservative MPs have called on the Government to leave the European Convention if the Act is frustrated by the Strasbourg-based European Court on Human Rights.
• As a Jewish community, we understand from experience that people seeking safety in the UK deserve dignity and compassion, not suspicion, punishment, and cruelty as in this new legislation.
• The Rwanda legal case is key to the implementation of the Illegal Migration Act.
• In October 2003, the UK Supreme Court is due to pass its judgement on the legality of the Rwanda policy.
• If the UK Supreme Court finds against the UK Government and deems the Rwanda policy as unlawful, will have implication on the Home Secretary’s ability to exercise the law under the Illegal Migration Act
• If the Supreme Courts finds in favour of the UK Government, it is possible the people seeking asylum could take their case to the European Court of Human Rights (however this is a long and costly process).
• From a legal point, it is about enabling people seeking asylum to regain access to a fair and legal framework.
• From a practical point, the Illegal Migration Act possess challenges on those providing support to asylum seekers, local authorities and housing associations etc.
What Can You Do
• Support our campaign calling on a 28-day limit on immigration detention and promoting alternatives to detention.
• Read the Brook House Inquiry, a published report by Kate Eves, the Chair of Brook House Inquiry, on the mistreatment of individuals who were detained at Brook House Immigration Removal Centre.
• Sign up as a short-term host for refugees in need of accommodation due to the 28-day limit via Refugees at Home.