The international medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) strongly condemns the dangerous new Illegal Migration Bill announced today by UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman.
The Bill seeks to ban those crossing the Channel in small boats from claiming asylum in the UK, punishing them for arriving irregularly despite the lack of safe and legal routes into the country. The Home Secretary has stated that those who do reach the UK will be detained on arrival and either returned to their country of origin, to another ‘safe’ country or expelled to Rwanda to claim asylum there. This marks an expansion of the British government’s inhumane and cruel policies focused on criminalising and violently deterring people seeking safety in the UK, which will leave people in limbo and have huge health and humanitarian consequences.
“The idea that people will be rapidly returned or expelled to Rwanda is not realistic, and so we anticipate that thousands of people will become stuck indefinitely after arrival to the UK, where there is no clear plan to accommodate them,” says Dr Natalie Roberts, Executive Director of MSF UK. "We have seen the horrific impact of similar policies on the Greek Islands where our teams report overwhelming numbers of people suffering from serious mental and physical health issues while contained in deplorable living conditions. Being stuck in limbo with no idea when, or even if, the situation will change causes significant harm to the health and well-being of people seeking safety – many of whom will have already had long and traumatising journeys.”
The government’s plans are particularly concerning given that there are virtually no safe and legal routes for people from the vast majority of countries to reach the UK. The UK has closed or dramatically reduced access to pathways available to people seeking safety both inside and outside of Europe, including the Dubs Scheme, Vulnerable Person’s Resettlement Scheme, and family reunification.
Already delays in the UK asylum system have led to tens of thousands of people being accommodated for months or years in inadequate living conditions, waiting for their claims to be processed. This has led to significant physical and mental health consequences for vulnerable men, women, and children. In late 2022 bottlenecks in the system led to severe overcrowding at the Manston asylum processing centre in Kent, where people were forced to sleep on the floor of tents in unsafe and unsanitary conditions, resulting in outbreaks of scabies and diphtheria. In now blocking entry to the asylum system entirely, the Illegal Migration Bill will provoke similar circumstances to those recently seen at Manston, just at a much greater scale.
“We know, and this government knows too, that this utterly cruel legislation will not stop people fleeing violence, persecution and other hardships,” says Roberts. “It will not prevent them attempting to reach the UK. It will merely subject vulnerable people seeking safety to untold suffering, as now they will not only be forced to take ever more dangerous routes to seek safety, they will also become trapped indefinitely in an unworkable system.”
If this government is serious about stopping people attempting the dangerous journey to the UK in small boats, it must immediately scrap this desperate and cruel bill and instead urgently open accessible safe routes to the UK.