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‘Draconian’ migration bill could leave tens of thousands destitute or locked up

<span>Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Nearly 200,000 people, including more than 40,000 children, could be locked up or forced into destitution if the government’s controversial illegal migration bill becomes law, according to new analysis by the Refugee Council.

The charity has used government data and the numbers of asylum seekers the Home Office said it hopes to deport from the UK, to project how many people are likely to either be forcibly removed or left in limbo in the first three years of the new legislation if it becomes law, at a cost to the taxpayer of around £9bn. Home Office officials say they do not recognise these figures.

The bill promises to clamp down on asylum seekers travelling to the UK by irregular means, such as in small boats or hidden in the backs of lorries, by making all of these claims ineligible for consideration in the UK. It also gives the Home Office the power to remove children seeking asylum from the country.

Under the new rules, people seeking asylum can be detained for 28 days without the right to access a lawyer or apply for bail. Terrorism suspects can only be detained for 14 days.

When calculating the figures, Refugee Council worked on the basis that the government deports the 30,000 asylum seekers they say they hope to remove to Rwanda. So far no removals have taken place as the lawfulness of the policy is still being considered by the courts.

Even if Home Office does remove 30,000 people to Rwanda, the Refugee Council estimates that between 161,147 and 192,670 people could be left in limbo. There are currently only 3,000 spaces in immigration detention. If the majority who remain in the UK are accommodated in hotels, 1,493 hotels will be needed. There are currently 51,000 asylum seekers in 395 hotels.

The new legislation could leave tens of thousands unable to access protection they are entitled to under international law, cause a great deal of human misery, cost billions and do nothing to alleviate the asylum backlog, according to the new report.

Many of those who will be detained and deported under the new legislation are from the world’s most troubled countries, including Eritrea, Sudan, Syria and Iran, where there is no visa resettlement option available. There are resettlement schemes for Afghans escaping from the Taliban but they are limited and many Afghans are fleeing their country and travelling to the UK in small boats.

Refugee resettlement to the UK from UNHCR refugee camps is currently 75% lower than the pre-Covid level in 2019, and refugee family reunion visas are 40% lower.

Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said: “This draconian legislation stains our country’s reputation for fairness in the face of adversity. All the evidence shows that the vast majority of those who come here by so-called irregular routes are refugees escaping bombs and bullets, violence and persecution.

“This bill rubbishes the very best of British values. It does not reflect the country we are in 2023. It is not who we are.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We do not recognise the figures used in this report. The aim of the illegal migration bill is to act as a deterrent and significantly reduce illegal migration when it comes into force.

“The UK has a proud history of supporting those in need through our safe and legal routes, offering protection to almost half a million men, women and children. While we are committed to ensuring there are routes to safety for vulnerable people across the globe, we must grip the rise in illegal migration and stop the boats.”