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UN voices concerns over illegal migration bill in UK

By JONATHAN POWELL | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-06-01 09:39
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The United Nation's human rights chief has expressed his concerns over the United Kingdom's Illegal Migration Bill, which would enable the swift detention and deportation of those arriving in small boats back home or to so-called safe third countries such as Rwanda.

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has declared stopping these arrivals a priority, and a new British migration law was approved by the UK Parliament's lower house last month. The bill is now being debated by the House of Lords, the upper house, and, if passed, will become law.

In an interview in Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said he had "formally raised" his concerns about the law with London last month, reported Reuters.

"We have very serious concerns from an international refugee law and from an international human rights law perspective, because it (the bill) would essentially bar people from seeking asylum in the UK if they come through a certain way," Turk said.

The UN human rights chief typically communicates with governments about human rights issues, however, some rights experts told Reuters that formal rebukes of Western democracies are rare.

The British diplomatic mission in Geneva stated it remained in dialogue with the high commissioner concerning the Illegal Migration Bill, adding that it was confident that its policies, including sending migrants to Rwanda, were lawful and authorized under the UN refugee convention.

Turk noted that wealthy countries were advocating anti-refugee laws and rhetoric despite them accepting less refugees than countries with fewer resources, highlighting Uganda and Bangladesh as examples.

"I don't understand how in the Global North when the numbers are much less, I mean significantly (less than in the Global South) ...there is all this kerfuffle about or hysteria about it when frankly, it shouldn't be the case," he said.

Turk also called for more action on people smugglers and for promoting regular migration routes. He underlined that the 1951 refugee convention, ratified by Britain and 150 other countries, ensures the legal rights of refugees.

Small boat arrivals accounted for about 45 percent of asylum applications made in the UK last year, official government figures show. In 2022, 45,755 men, women, and children crossed the English Channel route this way, the highest number since statistics began to be collected in 2018, noted the BBC.

A UK government spokesperson said: "The unacceptable number of people risking their lives by making these dangerous crossings is placing an unprecedented strain on our asylum system.

"Our priority is to stop this illegal trade, and our Small Boats Operational Command is working alongside our French partners and other agencies to disrupt the people smugglers."

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