On 26 April, the Illegal Migration Bill was passed through the House of Commons by 289 votes to 230. As it stands, the bill will make it extremely hard for women, men and children to claim asylum in the UK. As the bill makes its way through the House of Lords, we are placing the biblical principle of showing compassion to the foreigner at the heart of our engagement, and asking peers to do the same.

The overarching aim of the bill

The Illegal Migration Bill is the government’s attempt to reduce the high number of people who cross the Channel on a small boat in order to seek asylum in the UK. The bill will result in anyone arriving in the UK through unauthorised means being prevented from claiming asylum. Those who arrive through so-called illegal” means will be detained and removed to a safe country”, such as Rwanda. Anyone who is removed will be blocked from returning or seeking British citizenship in the future.

The finer details

During the report stage in the House of Commons, the government tabled amendments to their own bill in order to gain support from Conservative backbench MPs who were vocally opposed to parts of it. One particularly controversial aspect of the bill is the power that it will give the government to deport unaccompanied children. In order to appease backbenchers, an amendment was passed which specifies the limited circumstances that the deportation of unaccompanied children can take place in. Another amendment contained a commitment from the government to set out safe and legal routes” for asylum seekers to reach the UK. These amendments were passed.

Further amendments tabled by the government served to toughen elements of the bill. For example, one amendment makes it harder to seek a waiver on a ban for a deported person to re-enter the UK or gain citizenship. Other amendments tighten the law around age assessment, allowing anyone who does not consent to an age check to be deemed as over 18 years old, and therefore, be deported.

While amendments prevented any Conservative MPs rebelling against the government during the Stage Three vote on the bill, there remains concern over the bill amongst some MPs within the party – particularly about the impact that it will have on victims of modern slavery. The bill removes the temporary protections from deportation that are currently granted to suspected victims of modern slavery or human trafficking while their case is under consideration. There also remains great concern over what the bill will mean for unaccompanied children who make the crossing. It is expected to receive extensive scrutiny now that it has moved into the House of Lords.


How is the Evangelical Alliance responding?

The biblical command to treat the foreigner well is at the centre of our engagement with this bill. Leviticus 19:33 – 34 states: “‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God”. This is a sentiment that Jesus carried into His teaching. In Matthew 25:40, He explains to His followers: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me”.

With this as a guiding principle, we are praying for and seeking a system that treats asylum seekers with dignity and compassion. We recognise that the high number of people risking their lives crossing the channel on small boats is a significant problem that should be prevented, and that the asylum system is desperately in need of reform. We also recognise that upholding the dignity of all individuals and providing safety for the vulnerable should be at the heart of the UK’s immigration policy.

As we interact with peers in the House of Lords over the Illegal Migration Bill in coming weeks, we will have three main areas of focus:

Safe routes

Without more safe routes for people to claim asylum in the UK, those in need of refuge will continue to risk their lives by making dangerous crossings to the UK. If the government truly wants to lessen the number of people making these crossings, they need to create more safe routes to seek asylum in the UK. The few schemes that currently exist (ie the UK Resettlement Scheme, Community Sponsorship, and the Mandate Scheme) only allow for people experiencing fear or persecution in a very select number of circumstances and from specific countries (such as Ukraine and Afghanistan) to enter the UK. We will be asking Peers to amend the bill to create clear safe and legal paths to seek asylum in the UK for people experiencing persecution across a much wider range of countries.

Detention and bail

In its current form, the bill allows for children to be detained for up to 72 hours. Any length of detention for children is unacceptable and inhumane. We will be asking Peers to amend the bill so that there is no requirement to detain children.

There is currently a duty on the Home Secretary to consult with the Independent Family Returns Panel (an independent panel of experts from various backgrounds, including health care and social work) before they deport or detain a family with children. A clause in the Illegal Migration Bill removes this requirement, thus removing the commitment to take independent advice and accountability. We will be asking peers to remove this clause and to strengthen the duty to seek expert advice in these situations.

Support for unaccompanied children

Aspects of the bill prevent legal protection, appropriate accommodation, or access to statutory support for both accompanied and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. We are concerned that these measures will have a chilling impact on how local authorities assist and support children going through the asylum process. There is concern that they could lead to child destitution within local communities and that they will avoid approaching charities or local services for assistance due to concerns over their insecure immigration status. There are no situations where it is justifiable to remove unaccompanied children from the UK and where the UK government can guarantee children’s safety and wellbeing in another country. Therefore, we are asking peers to ensure that there are provisions in the bill for unaccompanied children to access support from local authorities.

What now?

The Illegal Migration Bill will be debated for the first time in the House of Lords on 10 May. It is expected that extensive amendments will be made before it returns to the House of Commons. Follow us and look out for updates as we continue to engage with policymakers over this bill.