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Illegal Migration Act: an alarming affront to human rights

Like many others, the Law Centre is dismayed that the Illegal Migration Act has now become law.

Northern Ireland has a long history of welcoming refugees and asylum seekers, providing sanctuary for so many people who have come here seeking safety from war, conflict and persecution.

Only a few weeks ago the UNHCR Representative to the UK, Vicky Tennant spoke of her pride in her home city of Belfast, a “place of refuge for so many”.

Now, through this cruel and senseless piece of legislation, the UK government has effectively put a ban on the right to claim asylum in the UK affecting thousands of men, women and children fleeing the world’s most brutal regimes.

This is a brazen contravention of the UK’s obligations under international law and an alarming affront to human rights and the UK’s standards of civility, dignity and basic decency.

It is worth repeating. Seeking asylum is a human right. It is a right which is upheld in international law: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly states that everyone has the right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution.

If and when it is fully implemented, the Illegal Migration Act will introduce an accelerated process of detention and deportation, which will see people in need of sanctuary criminalised, detained and deported without access to justice.  It is likely to have a disproportionate effect on vulnerable groups including children, pregnant women, LGBTQ+ people and victims of human trafficking.

The key premise of this Act is to permanently block from the UK’s asylum process any person in need of sanctuary who arrives UK via irregular means.  This belies a fallacy: there are virtually no safe and legal routes to the UK, meaning that people fleeing war and persecution are left with no choice but to use irregular – and often dangerous – routes.

Another troubling element of this Act is that it limits the power of the courts in the UK and Europe to uphold human rights – a fact that should be of deep concern to those who cherish the rule of law.

That the UK Government would act in contravention to its international obligations is an affront to the human rights of all people.

In the absence of a Northern Ireland Executive, we now call on the Executive Office to immediately begin work to mitigate some of the most devastating impacts of the Illegal Migration Act, as forewarned by civil society groups throughout Northern Ireland.

We stand in solidarity with all those affected by this devastating Act and will continue to argue for a fair, safe and humane asylum system for all those who are seeking refugee protection.

Refugees and asylum seekers will always be welcome in Northern Ireland.