As Canada grapples with Roxham Road, the UK proposes detaining and deporting all irregular migrants

As Canada grapples with irregular migration on Roxham Road in Quebec, across the Atlantic, the UK is grappling with its own high-profile controversy.

The United Kingdom has tabled a proposal for legislation: the Illegal Migration Bill — discouraging asylum seekers from arriving via the English Channel.

Experts warn that the so-called “Stop the Boats” bill would essentially remove the country from the global asylum system, part of a worrying global trend that has increasingly left migrants stranded in low-income transit countries.

The bill, introduced last week by Britain’s Home Secretary Suella Braverman, it would deport people entering the UK through irregular means, mainly those arriving by small boat via channel crossings from France, and would bar them from making asylum claims in the country.

“People need to know that if they come here illegally, it will result in their arrest and quick deportation,” British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said in a statement. “Once this happens, and they know it will happen, they won’t come and the boats will stop.”

The plan has been condemned by immigrant and human rights groups, including British former professional footballer and current sportscaster Gary Lineker, who was suspended by the BBC for a Twitter post criticizing the government’s proposed policy. Since then, he has returned to the airwaves after public backlash.

A dramatic increase in small boats and irregular migrants

The latest statistics from the UK Home Office showed 828 small vessels and 33,029 irregular migrants were detected between January and September 2022, doubling the number compared to the same period of the previous year. In 2019, prior to the pandemic, only 164 vessels and 1,843 people were intercepted.

Under the proposed planstill to be voted on, migrants can be detained for 28 days without bail or judicial review, and then for as long as there is a reasonable prospect of removal.

In exceptional circumstances, if someone faces risks of serious and irreversible harm when removed to a safe third country, they will not be removed until it is safe to do so. In these cases, they will have a maximum of 45 days to remain in the UK before exhausting all appeals. Deportees are also prohibited from re-entry.

(However, the bill would allow unaccompanied minors arriving in the UK illegally not to be transferred to a safe third country until adulthood.)

“This really is a radical and restrictive departure from our obligations under the (United Nations) Refugee Convention, cutting us off from the global asylum system,” said Peter William Walsh, Senior Research Fellow at Oxford University’s Migration Observatory.

“Signatories to the Refugee Convention have a duty to hear asylum claims from people on their territory, regardless of how they entered… The context of this is that there is no safe and legal route to come to the UK with the specific purpose of applying for asylum. There is no humanitarian visa. To apply for asylum, you have to be on British soil.”

Safe Third Country Agreement

Canada is also dealing with irregular migration between the official US land ports of entry. Last year the RCMP intercepted 39,540 irregular border crossers. In January alone, some 5,000 already entered Canada in the same way.

Migrants have to cross unguarded border crossings such as Roxham Road, a rural route in Quebec, because they cannot seek refuge at an official port of entry under the Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement or obtain a visa to enter. to the country legally. .

Under the bilateral treaty, Canada and the US recognize the other country as a safe place to seek refuge. It establishes that migrants must file their claims in the country where they first arrived.

But the rule does not apply to forests, dirt roads and waterways between official crossings because it is unenforceable along a porous 8,890-kilometre land border.

There is a difference between what is being proposed in the United Kingdom and the policy between Canada and the United States, although both have the effect of deterring refugees from coming here irregularly, said Sharry Aiken, a professor of immigration and refugee law at the Queen’s University.

“In fact, we have an agreement in place with the US. Flawed as it may be, that agreement is an attempt to ensure bilateral collaboration and cooperation in processing asylum claims,” he said.

“In the UK, they are trying to impose this solution unilaterally without regard to what happens to asylum seekers.

“There is no guarantee that immigrants will actually have access to a refugee determination procedure and find protection in France. They will end up in transit countries and they will predominantly end up in the Global South.”

a global crisis

The recent increase in irregular migration is a reflection of the growing number of displaced people around the world. It reached 100 million last year due to both man-made crises such as wars and natural disasters related to climate change, Aiken said.

“Solutions for refugees require global coordination and collaboration, not closing and sealing doors. Those so-called arrangements are really like fingers in a deck of cards. When there is pressure to migrate, migration will happen anyway,” she said.

Article 31 of the Refugee Convention, to which the UK is one of the original signatories, states that mode of arrival should not be used as a means to penalize asylum seekers and the new bill is a violation flagrant of that, Aiken noted.

While British officials have yet to reveal the details of the implementation, experts say there is a big question mark over how the changes will be implemented, as it would require readmission agreements with other countries.

UK detention centers currently have a capacity to hold 2,500 people and a similar policy for expedited removals, put in place two years ago, had only seen 21 of the 20,000 removable migrants deported as of last September, Walsh said.

“This gives you an idea of ​​the magnitude of the challenge of removing tens of thousands of people,” he told the Star, adding that he has seen very little evidence that such a deterrence policy works.

stop human traffickers

Although Sunak, Britain’s prime minister, insisted the plan would break the business model of people smugglers, Camille Le Coz, senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute of Europe, said such measures would only push migrants into take more dangerous routes.

“This is really misinterpreting the motivation of people trying to get to the UK because many of them have family ties to the UK and therefore will probably still try to cross,” said Le Coz, who is based in the UK. Paris office of the nonpartisan Washington think tank.

“One of the consequences of this is that it makes the route even more dangerous and puts people even more at risk. In fact, it may put some people off. … But it’s also likely to increase smuggling, the trafficking network, and make it even more dangerous for people to try to cross.”

He UN Refugee Agency warns UK about passing billsaying that it would, in effect, deny protection to many asylum seekers who need safety and protection, and even deny them the opportunity to present a case.

However, in the explanatory notes to the bill, the government asked parliamentarians to proceed with the proposal despite provisions that are not compatible with the rights of the UN Convention on Refugees.

“They are really putting their political capital into saying that we are stopping this crisis. It’s been a bit like what Rishi Sunak was saying about ‘We’ve tried everything and we have to be tough,’” he said.

Nicholas Keung is a Toronto reporter covering immigration for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @nkeung


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