The threat of more asylum legislation

The Government’s next immigration bill and the ‘small boats’ that it is said to respond to have something in common.

Both are clearly visible long before their ultimate arrival. As for what they may bring for the people so heavily invested in each, that remains fraught with uncertainty. And for human traffickers and people smugglers, both offer the prospect of increased ‘business’ and profits.

There are nonetheless important differences.

The people on the boats are seeking to do something entirely legitimate – making a claim for asylum – by the only means available to them.

By contrast, the Prime Minister, Home Secretary and those egging them on, once again intend to break with international law to further their harmful and unworkable policy of deterrence. They simply refuse to consider any practical and lawful alternatives open to them.

So why another immigration bill?

Ministers will, of course, continue to suggest a radically different connection between this bill and the boats. The bill, they’ll say, is necessary to stop the boats.

If pushed – though they’ve now elevated ‘stop the boats’ to be an end in itself – they’ll suggest it is necessary to save lives, better provide sanctuary to refugees, fix the asylum system and ‘break’ the criminal gangs.

But for anyone wishing to give serious consideration to the intentions that underpin the bill, there are only two options to consider.

A foolish and failed policy of deterrence or…

One option is to take the Government at its word and consider its intention is to deter people seeking asylum in the UK – thereby, in Ministers’ words, ‘stopping the boats’.

This is not the first UK government to pursue a deterrence policy – i.e. treating people who seek asylum in the UK badly in the hope this will persuade other people seeking asylum not to come.

But it has, particularly since December 2020, pursued this policy with exceptional and increasing abandon.

Back then, it made immigration rules to simply refuse to deal with the asylum claims of thousands of people on the impossible basis it would somehow persuade other countries to receive people from the UK into their asylum systems. No matter their asylum systems already receive significantly more people than the UK – in proportionate or absolute terms.

As Ministers were warned, the asylum backlog – already rising despite there being no increase in the annual number of claims made in the UK at that time – has since exploded.

Constantly doubling down on failure and worse

But ever since, the Government has kept doubling down. Deterrence is at the core of its wretched Nationality and Borders Act 2022 and its wicked Rwanda deal, each of which were ultimately secured in April 2022.

And what has been the result? There are more people dead, not more lives saved. Refugees are now suffering in large number in the UK as well on journeys to it. Smugglers and traffickers thrive. And the asylum system has been utterly wrecked by Ministers’ own policy and the enormous backlogs that has caused.

None of this has deterred people risking their lives in a small boat to reach even this miserable situation.

Once again, the blindingly obvious – and what Ministers and their cheerleaders (or those demanding they go further) refuse to acknowledge – is emphasised. If the people who seek asylum in the UK had any real alternative to the appalling conditions, abuse and sometimes fatal journeys on which they embark, they’d take them.

Simply demeaning and penalising people compelled to do the very thing for which they are punished is just cruel.

And unless the alternative explanation for Government policy is correct, it is mindless as well. Which brings us to the second option.

…an exercise in cruel and callous political exploitation?

That option is to consider the Government’s aim as being to constantly harm people seeking asylum for some political gain – no matter that the policy does not achieve its stated aim and whatever the cost of it.

There is no disputing there are several backbenchers and political commentators who loudly support the proposed bill.

It is also true that the bill could be used by those who have wider aims to dismantle the UK’s human rights legislation.

By exacerbating people’s need to rely on the Human Rights Act to have any hope of avoiding or mitigating the harms done by asylum policy, the Home Secretary and her supporters may hope to whip up hostility to human beings and human rights. This has been done before, intentionally or otherwise.

If this is the intention, it’s certainly not mindless. It’s purposefully cruel, dangerous and in its own way as exploitative as any human trafficker and people smuggler.

Conclusion

Whichever way you consider the coming bill, the Government’s actions and motivations are indefensible.

They’ve had years to face up to the dreadful consequences of the policy they still pursue. Not to mention the hate that Ministers have seemingly inspired by their reckless policy and demonising rhetoric.

None of this can possibly benefit refugees or wider society. Nor does it encourage respect for asylum obligations elsewhere in the world.

And even if it in some way advances the interests of the politicians who support and promote it, they should surely be thoroughly ashamed to benefit at such terrible expense to near everyone else – except those criminal gangs they claim to be so concerned about but which they enable to profit royally.