Context: Britain is facing a domestic and international backlash after unveiling ‘the Illegal Migration Bill’ to overhaul the way it handles migrants crossing the Channel on small boats.
What are the Key Proposals of the New Legislation?
- Suspension of rights: The new bill places a legal duty on the interior minister to deport anyone who enters the U.K. illegally, superseding their other rights under human rights conventions.
- Deportation to third country: The cross-channel migrants would be deported home or to a “safe third country”, such as Rwanda, under an existing ‘UK-Rwanda Asylum Plan’.
- Legal challenges or human rights claims would be heard in that country.
- Applicants would be disqualified from using British laws aimed at preventing modern slavery to stop their deportation.
- Ban on citizenship: Illegal entrants who are deported also face a lifetime ban on citizenship and re-entry to the U.K.
- Annual quota to settle in Britain: According to the new bill, lawmakers would set an annual quota for legal refugees eligible to settle in Britain.
Why is the United Kingdom (UK)/Britain Proposing this?
- Large inflow of cross-channel migrants: More than 45,000 migrants arrived on the shores of southeast England on small boats last year— a 60% annual increase on the route that has grown in popularity since 2018.
- Immigrant crisis in UK:
- Since 2018, there has been a marked rise in the number of refugees and asylum seekers that undertake dangerous crossings between Calais in France and Dover in England.
- Most such migrants and asylum seekers hail from war-torn countries like Sudan, Afghanistan, and Yemen, or developing countries like Iran and Iraq.
- For Britain that has adopted a hard-line stance on illegal immigration, these crossings constitute
What was the ‘UK-Rwanda Asylum Plan’?
- The UK and Rwanda Migration and Economic Development Partnership or the Rwanda Deal is a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the two governments.
- Under this deal, Rwanda will commit to taking in asylum seekers who arrive in the UK on or after January 1, 2022, using illegally facilitated and unlawful cross border migration.
- Rwanda will function as the holding centre where asylum applicants will wait while the Rwandan government makes decisions about their asylum and resettlement petitions in Rwanda.
- Rwanda will, on its part, accommodate anyone who is not a minor and does not have a criminal record.
- Rationale of the plan:
- The plan aims to combat “people smugglers”, who often charge exorbitant prices from vulnerable migrants to put them on unseaworthy boats from France to England that often lead to mass drownings.
- The UK contends that this solution to the migrant issue is humane and meant to target the gangs that run these illegal crossings.
Criticism on the United Kingdom’s new legislation
- Violation of International Law: The United Nations refugee agency i.e., UNHCR has criticized the UK’s new legislation, stating that it violates the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, which permits people to claim asylum in another country without papers or passports.
- Concerns about Effectiveness: Critics have also expressed concerns about its effectiveness in reducing cross-Channel migration.
- Criticism of Cruelty: Doctors Without Borders charity has called the new legislation “cruel and inhumane,” with concerns being raised about the treatment of migrants who arrive in the UK via small boats.
United Nations Refugee Convention 1951
- It is a United Nations multilateral treaty that defines who is a refugee, and sets out the rights of individuals who are granted asylum and the responsibilities of nations that grant asylum.
- It also set out which people do not qualify as refugees, such as war criminals.
- It grants certain rights to people fleeing persecution because of race, religion, nationality, affiliation to a particular social group, or political opinion.
- The Convention also provides for some visa-free travel for holders of travel documents issued under the convention.
- The 1967 Protocol included refugees from all countries as opposed to the 1951 Convention that only included refugees from Europe.
- India is not a member of this convention.
Important from Prelims Perspective
The English Channel and The Strait of Dover
- The English Channel is a narrow sea that separates southern England from northern France and connects the North Sea to the Atlantic Ocean.
- The Strait of Dover is a narrow waterway that lies within the English Channel and separates England from France at their closest points.
- It is approximately 34 km wide at its widest point and is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.