WATCHING the UK Parliament’s debates on the Illegal Migration Bill, the initial response of many people must have been “surely this legislation will not pass?”.

Surely the UK will not create a process and legislation which put more vulnerable people in harm and open to exploitation.

The bill did pass, only one year after the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, and received royal assent last week, despite being seen as violating international refugee protection, such as the Refugee Convention.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said: “The legislation will exacerbate the already vulnerable situation of people who arrive irregularly in the UK, drastically limiting the enjoyment of their human rights and putting them at risk of detention and destitution.”

The asylum system in the UK has been broken for far too long and it is has been broken by acts and omissions by this UK Government.

Taxpayers’ money is spent every year on ways to make life extremely difficult for people who are fleeing from various forms of persecution.

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There is a backlog of claims and people seeking asylum are placed in hotels across the country with very limited access to support and, in some areas, are met with racism.

For the immigration system to work, it needs to be based on fairness, compassion and humanity. It needs to honour the United Nations instruments and decisions of United Nations organisations, and redouble its commitment to both the letter and spirit of human rights law.

It must have international protection at its centre because our futures are yoked together.

And we must be realistic – the new law will only open gates for further exploitation of people, creating offshore asylum centres – extending and creating new forms of detention centres while many people will be made destitute.

When the law becomes an instrument to violate human rights and create pathways to exploitation, we must question our role within this law.

People seeking asylum and refuge deserve a fair and just process, where they are not treated as a burden, but as an individual who simply wants to make a new life.

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A collective statement from the Unesco Chair in Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts, at the University of Glasgow, said: “By taking this step to criminalise asylum and render the 1951 Refugee Convention obsolete, after more than 70 years and after leading the production of the Convention, the UK is openly spearheading law-breaking violence.

It continues: “The Illegal Migration Act is a new piece of legislation that has been produced by the UK Government with the express intention of undermining the 1951 Refugee Convention. It is a domestic law that conflicts with a greater international law governing refugees.

“The violence embedded by the authors and legislators in this domestic law-making is the latest culmination in the erosion of precious covenants produced at the end of the Second World War.

“It represents a rule by decrees, eroding the protections every person in the UK has enjoyed in the recent past. This is an act of breath-taking international irresponsibility and domestic selfishness against people seeking refuge and against future generations.”

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With a founding member state – the UK – using its legislative powers to undermine an established Convention, the UNHCR faces an existential threat.

The statement then outlines key questions to be asked now of the international community and of the United Nations organs as to what can be done, given that the 1951 Refugee Convention itself is “now on life support”.

What can be done at an international level?

For the UN and international bodies:

1. We urge the United Nations and its organs to consider invoking Article 38 (Settlement of Disputes) to assess the extent of the breach of the convention caused by the Illegal Migration Act.

Article 38 of the 1951 Refugee Convention clearly states: “Any dispute between parties to this convention relating to its interpretation or application, which cannot be settled by other means, shall be referred to the International Court of Justice at the request of any one of the parties to the dispute”.

While the UK is within its sovereign rights, however egregious they may seem, to create its own domestic legislation, international law is a different matter, and the UK must not be allowed to act with impunity and permanently erode international conventions.

2. If it is found that the UK Act does indeed violate the letter and spirit of the Refugee Convention, the United Nations and its organs should consider what measures should be taken.

This assessment should be made by the UNHCR and the United Nations organs as it pertains to international conventions, not UK domestic law. The question of “the refugee” is a question of international law and conventions. Additionally, the United Nations should agree, as part of its continued solidarity with all countries accepting and processing asylum claims worldwide.

What can be done domestically?

For all those engaged in the work of hospitality and receiving those seeking asylum away from the violence of the state:

1. Denounce the pernicious discourse of violence repeatedly and promote words of love and hospitality. Despair is optional.

2. Small acts of resistance and neighbourliness are acts of courage and possibility.

3. Dust yourselves down, watch for rage spilling over, proceed gently, sustain yourself and others – so you are well in your service to others.

4. Sharpen your analysis. Read reputable journalism and important books to see through deceptive discourse and propaganda serving violence. Listen instead to the first-hand stories people tell about their experiences in the asylum system.

5. Support those engaging in legal action and legal education —familiarise yourself with the work of Right to Remain’s toolkit.

6. Sign the open letter to the PM – [Illegal] Migration Act: Not in our name.

In short: do the work; give the time; give the money; reach out to one another; never despair; dig in; be of good courage; keep building sanctuaries – however partial – in communities.

Goodness is stronger than this evil.