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A UK measure to stem migration is set to become law


A plan to detain asylum-seekers and others who get to Britain by boat and send them to Rwanda or another, quote, "safe" third country is about to become law. The passage of what's known as the Illegal Migration Bill is a win for U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who's vowed to stop migrants from crossing the English Channel on small boats. Some 45,000 people did so last year. Joining us now is Shabia Mantoo with the United Nations Refugee Agency. U.N. officials insist the legislation is at odds with the U.K.'s obligations under international law and that it'll have profound consequences for people in need of international protection. Can you tell us what the main concerns are raised by this bill?

SHABIA MANTOO: Look, the concerns are manyfold. Firstly, it will extinguish access to asylum for anyone arriving irregularly, having passed through a country, however briefly, where they didn't face persecution. So it will bar them basically from presenting refugee protection or other human rights claims, no matter how compelling their circumstances are. And it will require their removal to another country with no guarantee that they will be able to access protection there. So it will have a profound effect on the rights of people. They will be left in limbo or really at risk. And at the same time, it also undermines the entire refugee protection regime of which the U.K. and many other countries have been ardent supporters of. It will also send a worrying signal to the rest of the world. In fact, 76% of the world's refugees are hosted in low- and middle-income countries. They're not hosted in the most-resourced countries, like the U.K. So it's really worrying that this effort is really undermining that whole regime as well.

MARTÍNEZ: We got a statement from U.K.'s Home Office. I wanted to read a part of it to you. Nothing in the bill requires the government to act incompatibly with international law, and says it seeks to deter and prevent people from making dangerous, illegal and unnecessary journeys. What's your response?

MANTOO: Well, we've shared our concerns with the U.K. government. We hold our view that this legislation, given that it will extinguish access to asylum, it isn't compliant with the obligations required under international law. And there are other ways to really address some of these issues. We share the concerns about the loss of life and the risks and desperation that people are faced with. But this is not the solution, and this will, in fact, only exacerbate the risk and dangers that people will face.

MARTÍNEZ: You mention other ways to address issues. What would they be?

MANTOO: Well, these efforts include the ensuring that there are expedited and fast and fair asylum processing, because not everyone will be entitled to international protection. But those that do and that will need it must be afforded that right. They must be protected. But there can also be swift returns of those that are not in need of protection. But we also need to increase the availability and accessibility of safer pathways for people to be able to come to the U.K. and other countries and also to combat human trafficking and smuggling. But there are a whole raft of proposals and solutions which we've put forward and we hope that they will be looked at.

MARTÍNEZ: One last thing, just about a few seconds here. When he was prince, King Charles had been opposed to sending asylum-seekers back to Rwanda. I know the bill still needs his signature, and while it's likely he'd sign it, are you hoping he'll try to somehow use his influence on this?

MANTOO: We can't speculate, but we do know that there is ongoing judicial intervention or proceedings. So we hope that there will be a determination. But at the end of the day, that - a really humane and compliant approach to protecting the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers will be maintained.

MARTÍNEZ: Shabia Mantoo is with the U.N. Refugee Agency. Thank you very much.

MANTOO: Yeah. Thank you for having us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.