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Apparently Breaking International Law Isn’t Enough of a Red Flag

French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak smile widely as they meet to discuss the future of refugee policies

The UK is not looking pretty these days.

I mean to be fair, it never was. The gloomy English weather makes it feel like the sky is covered in a cold, clammy sweat 24/7. But its politics are even uglier. Home of world’s #1 TERF, the UK Government has continually weaponized trans people in order to further its own political agenda. Now the new Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, is setting his sights on another issue that has remained contentious for British people: immigration.

The UK government resembles former President Donald Trump’s America in many ways. Many of its members are nationalistic, xenophobic, and generally unconcerned with the rights of minorities. One could say that Trump’s rise to power in America ushered in a sea change in global politics, skewing the governments of many nations over to the right. Nandera Modi in India, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, and Boris Johnson in the United Kingdom. While some nations like Australia seem to be swinging back to left-leaning politics, it seems that Rishi Sunak has taken the torch from his predecessor in order to keep a tight conservative grip on the nation.

Now Sunak has drafted a migration bill that will no doubt have devastating effects on asylum seekers fleeing violence in their home countries. The bill seeks to stop small boats that frequently cross the channel, carrying asylum-hopefuls in tow. Sunak claims that deterring small boats from landing on UK shores is a “priority” for British people. If that’s the case, I certainly hope conservative Brits get their priorities sorted out.

Labour party politicians are skeptical of the bill’s efficacy. Sir Keir Starmer sparred with Sunak about the proposed bill, calling the Prime Minister “deluded” if he truly thinks that the bill will deter the small boats, as returns agreements for other countries have yet to be established. Labour leaders claim that such a bill will effectively halt the processing of asylum seekers currently in the country altogether. According to Sir Keir, the country’s “broken” asylum system has processed less than 1% of asylum applications, and the new law would make boat-case processing “almost nonexistant”.

The government also announced that it would further punish asylum seekers by removing them from the country in 28 days and block them from attempting to return or claim British citizenship in the future. The number of people entering the country via small boats alone is an estimated 40,000 to 80,000 people annually. Currently, the UK government has a plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda. However, since the plan was put in place, no one has yet been sent.

Senior members of the conservative party have high hopes for the bill, despite admitting that it will “push the boundaries of international law“. If that sounds like a massive red flag of a statement, that’s because it is.

The bill has been met with vehement criticism from the UN and other human rights groups, who say that a small boats ban is tantamount to banning asylum seeking entirely. The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR put out a statement saying that the bill affords “no consideration” to the “individual circumstances” of migrants, and eliminates the “right” for refugees to seek protection. The statement further describes the bill as a “clear breach of the Refugee Convention and would undermine a longstanding humanitarian tradition of which the British people are rightly proud”.

The Chief Executive of the Refugee Council Enver Solomon is of a similar mind. He claims that the bill’s stipulations are “more akin to authoritarian nations” such as Russia, and said that the bill would do nothing to stop migrants from crossing the channel. He believes the bill will amount to “traumatized people locked up in a state of misery being treated as criminals and suspected terrorists without a fair hearing on our soil”. He’s right. After all, most of the people on these boats are women and children fleeing from bloodshed in nations like Syria, Iran, and Afghanistan. Other refugee organizations have decried the bill as “costly and unworkable“, saying that the bill will do nothing but contribute to further “demonization and punishment” of asylum seekers.

The threat of breaking international law has not served as a deterrent to Sunak and his supporters. Rather, he told news outlets that he is “up for the fight” in international courts and is “confident we will win”. Again, really just a huge red flag when your new bill may just land you in court defending yourself against accusations of human rights abuses. As for the other stipulations of the bill, they are just as red flaggy. Migrants who are jailed after the country will not be able to receive bail or seek judicial review for 28 days after their arrest. The UK intends to set a cap on the number of refugees the government will settle (my guess is that cap will stay at the %1 it’s at right now). The home secretary’s decision to remove migrants to Rwanda will take legal precedent over their right to claim asylum. And finally, those who are under 18, deemed unfit to fly, or those who will face serious violence in the country to which they are being returned will be able to “delay” their removal. I’m sure, in many cases, that delay will end once the person turns 18, and then the UK will be shipping traumatized teenagers off to the other side of the world.

Sunak meanwhile continues to wear rose-colored glasses about the issue, which must make all the red flags appear no redder than anything else. He swears that his administration is doing “absolutely nothing improper or unprecedented” with regard to pursuing the legislation despite being warned that it might not be compatible with ECHR laws.

“We believe we are acting in compliance with international law, in compliance with the ECHR, and if challenged… we will fight that hard because we believe we’re doing the right thing and it is compliant with our obligations” the Prime Minister insisted.

Conservative officials have expressed hope that the bill will be passed by the end of the year, meaning that the new immigration policies (or effective lack thereof) will be enacted in early 2024. This means that the bill would be safe from being struck down should new politicians take office in a 2024 election. Should new politicians take office, I propose that the yship the former Conservative legislators off to Rwanda and see how they like it.

(featured image: Chesnot/Getty Images)

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Jack Doyle (they/them) is actually nine choirs of biblically accurate angels in crammed into one pair of $10 overalls. They have been writing articles for nerds on the internet for less than a year now. They really like anime. Like... REALLY like it. Like you know those annoying little kids that will only eat hotdogs and chicken fingers? They're like that... but with anime. It's starting to get sad.