Illustration by Clara Nicoll

Displaced life: Am I illegal?

The Illegal Migration Bill is a threat to us all
June 14, 2023

For the eight years that I have been in the UK as an asylum seeker, my sense of safety has been steadily eroded. The government has used Machiavellian tactics, like allowing delays in the processing of applications to get so long that they break people’s spirits. But more recently, it has also explicitly stoked hateful culture wars that make me feel like a pawn in a chess game. 

The Illegal Migration Bill is not humanitarian. Its main proposition is that those who arrive illegally will not be allowed to remain here. People who arrive in small boats will be sent back either to their home country or to a third country like Rwanda. As there are currently so few established schemes for those seeking asylum in the UK, the Bill could effectively close the door to people fleeing persecution like me. It would also curtail people’s rights to appeal the decisions that are made about their futures. 

Human rights organisations like Liberty have criticised the Bill as “desperately cruel”. That is certainly how it feels to me. It seems like the prodigal students of Enoch Powell are still in British politics today. They are celebrating a drawbridge mentality: if you’re from here, and your parents are from here, then you’re welcome. If not, then go back home. 

This government promised a better future for the British people in order to win the majority it has in parliament. Dear reader, was this the future you imagined? A cost-of-living crisis, an economy in slump and a home secretary who seems to think she can rewrite the meaning of the word “asylum”? A home secretary who wants the UK to dishonour its global commitments towards refugees and use us as scapegoats? Even the architect of the hostile environment herself, Theresa May, has criticised the Bill for its approach to modern slavery. 

Unless you come from a short list of approved countries you may not have access to a “safe route”—whether you’re fleeing genocide, human trafficking, religious persecution, or violence based on your sexual orientation. This threat to asylum seekers like me is a threat to all of us. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere: we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied together in one fabric. I arrived in the UK on a plane, but after “Stop the Boats”, what will come next? 

The Bill is currently under consideration by peers in the House of Lords. We must hope that the peers will do what they can to curtail its egregious provisions. When the Bill had its second reading in May, several Conservative peers spoke out about their concerns that it breaches international law, including Baroness Sugg and Lord Kirkhope. Lord Kirkhope accused the government of “using extreme rhetoric”—I agree with him! But we cannot rely on the Lords alone to challenge the Bill. We must also unite in opposition to it—I, for one, cannot sit idly by and let it pass.