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UK asylum and policy

Illegal Migration Bill

UNHCR is profoundly concerned by new legislation introduced by the UK Government into the House of Commons on Tuesday 7 March 2023.

The legislation, if passed, would amount to an asylum ban – extinguishing the right to seek refugee protection in the United Kingdom for those who arrive irregularly, no matter how compelling their claim may be. 

UNHCR expressed profound concern in an initial public statement on 7 March 2023, noting that the Bill, if passed, would breach the UK’s obligations under international law.

On 22 March 2023 UNHCR shared formal legal observations on the Bill with the UK Government. 

In order to examine the facts behind small boat arrivals, and the consequences this legislation would have if passed in its current form, UNHCR has published the following factsheets:

The effect of the Bill (in this form) would be to deny a fair hearing and to deny protection to many genuine refugees in need of safety and asylum.This would be a clear breach of the Refugee Convention and undermines the United Kingdom’s longstanding, humanitarian traditions.

The vast majority of refugees have no way to legally reach the UK to claim asylum, regardless of how strong their need for protection is. A majority of those arriving over the Channel would be likely to be found to be refugees, were their claims to be considered by the Home Office on their merits.

At present, safe regular pathways to the U.K. are open only to Ukrainian refugees and a limited number of Afghan refugees for whom the UK government has established distinct pathways (including 2,000 a year through UNHCR resettlement). Such pathways, while critical, are severely limited, and are intended to complement, rather than substitute, for asylum.

At present the UK has no arrangements in place that would enable the transfer of asylum-seekers to safe third countries in practice. The Rwanda arrangement does not meet the requisite standards and has been subject to legal challenge.  In the absence of such arrangements (and appropriate safeguards) people in need of asylum and protection will instead remain in limbo, and possibly in detention.

Alternatives to address current challenges and combat smuggling while protecting refugees are available, and we urge the UK Government and UK parliamentarians to re-direct their attention to more humane and effective measures as a matter of urgency.

Read the UNHCR statement in full released 7 March 2022.



For information on previous legislation and agreements please view the relevant pages: