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Recently, the Government introduced an ‘Illegal Migration Bill’ that would detain or quickly deport all asylum seekers if they entered the UK illegally. Not only is this policy inhumane but also impractical. 

The Bill has already come under fire for being too harsh on migrants escaping dangerous situations. It also does not acknowledge the fact that many migrants do not have the means to enter the UK legally. Additionally, Home Secretary Braverman was unable to assert if the bill violated the European convention on human rights. Despite this, the Government intends to move forward with the bill. 

This policy has echoes of Australia’s harsh anti-immigration laws. Not long after the 9/11 attacks in the United States, Australia passed a policy that removed many Australian territories from its immigration zone, which resulted in immigration officials apprehending asylum-seekers and sending them to prisons in Papua New Guinea and Nauru. In the following years, the number of migrants travelling on boats to Australia increased. In response, the government removed the whole of Australia as an immigration zone and thousands of people were moved to island prisons. 

The policy was not only ineffective but also inhumane and expensive. A 2017 study found that “60% of refugees and asylum seekers [in Nauru] had suicidal thoughts, a similar proportion had moderate or severe depression, and 30% had attempted suicide, including children as young as 9.”  On average it costs AUD $471,500 a year per person (equivalent to about £260,000) and yearly costs of offshore detention are over AUD 1$ billion (£550 million). 

The UK’s proposed policy seems likely to repeat Australia’s mistakes.

First, the Government plans to build new detention centres to hold detained migrants who come across the English Channel. Currently, the UK’s detention capacity is 2,286. In 2022 alone, 45,755 migrants crossed the Channel and more than 80,000 are expected to do so this year. While the government is currently planning to convert a former RAF base in Essex and possibly one in Lincolnshire, there is no way to hold the number of migrants that are expected to cross the Channel. Far more than two detention centres would need to be built.

Second, the cost of detaining so many migrants would cost hundreds of millions of pounds, not including the construction of new detention facilities. Meanwhile the UK’s medical, industrial, and education sectors are strained and underfunded. Is it sound to pour money into a system that will detain desperate asylum seekers with the sole purpose to deport them while there are numerous on-going domestic crises?

Third, there are few concrete plans in place to deport these asylum seekers to other safe countries. Currently, the UK has partnered with Rwanda to deport asylum seekers whose claims are inadmissible. However, legal challenges have prevented a single deportation flight to Rwanda taking off since the policy was introduced. Many believe “the Rwanda policy is not compatible with fundamental human rights afforded to asylum seekers under the European convention on human rights.” Immigration law offices have questioned the suitability of Rwanda’s asylum system as well. There have also been no deals made with France or the EU since the UK left. 

While the issue of immigration must be addressed and dealt with, the UK’s new immigration policy is not practical or feasible. The government has not proposed any clear plans on how they will fund the new detention centres or where migrants will be deported or relocated to. It also fails to acknowledge the emotional and physical toll such a process would have – and in Australia, has had –  on thousands of desperate migrants. 

Tanya Gauthier is doing work experience at Bright Blue. Views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue. [Image: Aude-Andre Saturnio]