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UK immigration policies breach human rights standards


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In its 2023 World Report, Human Rights Watch found that the recent immigration and asylum policies introduced by the UK government breach domestic human rights obligations and undermine international human rights standards.

The report focuses on the Rwanda agreement and the Nationality and Border Act. But it does not forget other legislation adopted last year, such as the judicial review bill past in April 2022 which limits the right, amongst other things, to judicially review immigration tribunal decisions. It also highlights that, unlike most European countries, the UK has not legislated a statutory upper time limit on individual periods of immigration detention.

It suggests that these measures undermine the refugee protection system and fail to prioritise human rights considerations. The differential treatment introduced by the Nationality and Borders Act is discriminatory, punishing and breaching the human rights of those entering the UK through irregular routes.

In relation to the Rwanda agreement, the report says the UK government will be putting asylum seekers’ lives at risk by removing them to Rwanda to process their claims. The Rwandan section of the World Report is also damning. Arbitrary detention and ill-treatment in unofficial detention facilities remain common in Rwanda and the Rwandan government continues to persecute individuals who are perceived to support opposition parties (with activists reportedly being killed by Rwandan authorities even abroad in countries like Mozambique and Uganda). In addition to this, LGBT people continue to be stigmatised. Asylum claims based on sexual orientation and gender identity are normally refused by the Rwandan authorities.   

The report does not shine a positive light on the UK’s visa schemes for ‘legal’ entry to the UK for asylum seekers. Concerns are raised about the effectiveness of the Afghan resettlement scheme and the UK’s commitment to it, given that the vast majority of Afghans eligible under the scheme are unable to seek safety in the UK. Unfortunately, the Afghan scheme is often referenced as a successful way to enter the UK.

The Home Office have recently announced that they plan to close down their current arrangement of hosting Afghan refugees in hotels by the end of 2023. Hotels in London will apparently close at the end of February. Over 9,000 Afghan refugees continue to be housed in hotels across the UK. Many have been in hotels for the past year and a half. Whilst the government continues to look at alternative options such as disused service accommodation, it remains unclear whether there are suitable alternatives. Plans for local authorities to assist with accommodating refugees more permanently also includes encouraging refugees to find there own accommodation. So far, only 44 families have been provided with permanent accommodation.

The situation differs a little for Ukrainian refugees. In the context of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the report says that the UK has failed to waive visa requirements for Ukrainians fleeing conflict.  However, once in the UK the Home Office at least appears to accept that it has an ongoing responsibility to continue to support and house those under the Ukraine scheme visas.  

Summarising the findings of the report, the UK Director at Human Rights Watch said that, especially in light of the immigration and asylum policies introduced over the last year, the UK government “has taken a sledgehammer to its fundamental international commitments”, despite its claim of wanting to play a key role in protecting democracy and freedom across the world. With litigation ongoing against the Rwanda agreement, it remains to be seen whether the government will succeed in implementing this policy. For everyone remaining in the UK, immigration policy continues to obstruct human rights.

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Francesca Sella

Francesca Sella

Francesca is an immigration and asylum solicitor at the Scottish Refugee and Migrant Centre at JustRight Scotland, Scotland's legal centre for justice and human rights.