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Helen Bamber Foundation and Asylum Aid statement on the ‘Illegal’ Migration Bill

Kerry Smith
Alison Pickup

The Helen Bamber Group – made up of the Helen Bamber Foundation and Asylum Aid - works with survivors of torture, trafficking and extreme human cruelty, people who have experienced horrific trauma and suffering.

At the heart of our work is a human centred approach, one that supports vulnerable women and men to access their basic human right to have a safe, dignified and fulfilling life.   Central to this is access to safety - being able to find protection from violence, war, abuse, exploitation and slavery. 

This Government, through the ‘Illegal' Migration Bill, seeks to strip those fleeing war, persecution and human rights abuses of their right to seek safety in this country. It will mean that the UK turns its back on this extremely vulnerable group of people.  This would break with the international law created in the aftermath of the Second World War, whereby all nations have a duty to provide protection to those who need it.  

At the same time, the Bill seeks to destroy long held principles of fairness in our justice system – that of access to the courts and equality before the law.  It undermines the Rule of Law to avoid judicial oversight of the life, death and liberty decisions that government officials will make. Allowing executive action without judicial oversight threatens us all: it is a step on the road to tyranny.

The lack of safe routes for those fleeing persecution and violence means that under this Bill survivors of torture, trafficking and other forms of human cruelty will be blocked from the systems that enable them to secure safety. Instead of having a pathway to a secure future, survivors will be kept in limbo – in detention or quasi detention conditions – for years. This will increase their risk of further exploitation, abuse and violence here in the UK as their enforced penury provides a fertile ground for criminal gangs who profit from modern slavery. Excluded and yet unremovable, this population will become even more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse in the UK.

Ultimately the removal of protections for survivors of trafficking and modern slavery will result in criminals being able to clearly demonstrate that survivors who try to escape and who identify themselves to the authorities will not be kept safe, thereby trapping people in slavery for longer.

This Government knows that this Bill will do little to actually ‘deter’ people risking their lives to seek safety and that they will then be detaining people across the UK for years to come, perhaps indefinitely. There is a wealth of clinical evidence on the significant harms – both physical and mental - caused by immigration detention, and by living in immigration ‘limbo’, in some cases pushing people into states of chronic ill health. It is shameful that this Government will reintroduce the widespread detention of families with children, which the 2010 Conservative Government sought to abolish because of the inevitable harm it causes to children. The Government fully understands the outcome of the punitive and inoperable policies contained in the Bill - widespread trauma and suffering.

In response to this unprecedented attack on the survivors we work with, the Helen Bamber Foundation and Asylum Aid will:

  • continue to push to bring about the creation of a compassionate, fair, and effective asylum system and National Referral Mechanism (the system for providing identification and support for victims of trafficking) - systems that protect, rather than punish the victims of crime, that give people a fair hearing and timely decisions, and that do not make survivors of trauma more vulnerable and unwell;
  • work collaboratively with others to determine what the most likely outcomes of the new Bill will be and where we can add most value in supporting the survivors caught up in its claws; and
  • resist the passing and implementation of this Bill with all the means at our disposal.