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UN Human Rights Committee expresses deep concern over UK’s asylum legislation and calls for Rwanda bill to be withdrawn


Review of the UK concludes with UN committee highlighting numerous troubling aspects in immigration and asylum legislation

Date of Publication:

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has today called on the UK to withdraw the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill.

UN logoImage credit: WikipediaThe Committee was reviewing the UK at its 140th session, which concluded today.

In the advance version of its concluding observations, the Committee expresses deep concern over recent legislation in the UK that discriminates against migrants and asylum seekers, and that seeks to limit access to rights for asylum seekers, refugees and migrants in the UK.

The offending legislative provisions, including within the Illegal Migration Act 2023, should be swiftly repealed, the Committee recommends.

In addition, the UN committee expresses regret over the UK's migration agreement with Rwanda and it calls on the UK to withdraw the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill or to repeal it should the Bill become law.

Legislative changes that remove protections for potential victims of trafficking also draw concerns from the Human Rights Committee, as does an expansion in the powers and application of immigration detention.

You can access the Committee's full concluding observations from here.

The relevant sections covering immigration and asylum from the concluding observations are excerpted and reproduced below:

Advance unedited version
Distr.: General
28 March 2024
Original: English

Human Rights Committee

Concluding observations on the eighth periodic report of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland*

* Adopted by the Committee at its 140th session (4-28 March 2024).


Elimination of slavery, servitude and trafficking in persons

38. The Committee is concerned that recent changes to legislation, including the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 amending the Modern Slavery Act and the Illegal Migration Act 2023, have resulted in the removal of certain protections for potential victims of trafficking arriving in the State party as well as made it harder to identify victims of human trafficking and, therefore, ensure they have access to justice. In particular, the Committee is concerned that the legislative changes increase the burden of proof brought to the National Referral Mechanism, criminalize victims of human trafficking and will likely result in victims being removed from the State party without fully considering their claim and providing them with the necessary support and protections under article 8 of the Covenant as well as the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. Furthermore, the Committee is concerned about the visa policy for migrant workers, increasing their precarious situation and leaving them open to abuse and exploitation by employers, as well as about the lack of protections available to them (arts. 2, 7, 8 and 26).

39. The State party should:

(a) Ensure the alignment of the legislative framework to combat human trafficking with international standards on trafficking in persons, including by reforming the National Referral Mechanism and by ensuring the implementation of the Illegal Migration Act 2023 does not result in victims of trafficking being returned to face further exploitation and harm;

(b) Intensify its efforts to provide effective remedies, including protection rehabilitation and compensation, for all victims of human trafficking and exploitation, no matter their migratory status;

(c) Intensify its efforts to strengthen legislation, including the visa policy, and regulations protecting migrant workers against abuse and exploitation, facilitating access to effective legal remedies, with interpretation services, and ensuring that workers can access those remedies without fear of reprisal, detention or deportation.

(d) Facilitate the reporting of abuse and exploitation, including by ensuring access to multiple forms of reporting, and educational campaigns for migrant workers, in their own languages, about their rights and available remedies.

Treatment of aliens, including migrants, refugees and asylum seekers

40. The Committee is deeply concerned about the introduction of legislative initiatives containing elements that discriminate against migrants and that seek to limit access to rights for asylum seekers, refugees and migrants in the State party, such as the Illegal Migration Act 2023, which deprives persons who arrive in the State party through irregular channels from claiming asylum if they have passed through a country in which they did not face persecution, effectively amounting to an 'asylum ban', in breach of the Convention related to the Status of Refugees, including its Article 31, which prohibits penalising refugees and asylum seekers on account of their "illegal entry or presence", and its Article 33 on non-refoulement. The Committee also regrets the State party's efforts to make arrangements with third countries to transport individuals seeking asylum in the State party to such countries, particularly through the Memorandum of understanding between the UK and Rwanda and the government's efforts to adopt the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill despite the ruling of the UK Supreme Court that the arrangement would not be compliant with international law, particularly the prohibition of refoulement (arts. 2, 8-9, 13-14 and 26).

41. The Committee urges the State party to:

(a) Swiftly repeal the legislative provisions, including within the Illegal Migration Act 2023, that discriminate against migrants and that seek to limit access to rights for asylum seekers, refugees and migrants in the State party on account of their "illegal entry or presence", with a view to ensuring its legislation fully complies with the Covenant and relevant international standards;

(b) Provide access to status determination mechanisms for asylum seekers, refugees and stateless persons to help ensure they have their claims processed expeditiously, and those granted protection are able to integrate effectively and are protected from discrimination, regardless of their national origin or status as refugees or stateless persons, in line with articles 2, 13 and 26 of the Covenant;

(c) Withdraw the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, or repeal the bill if passed, with a view to strictly upholding the principle of non-refoulement in both law and practice.

Immigration detention conditions

42. While noting that while there is no fixed timeline on the duration of detention in immigration removal centres and that migrants cannot be detained indefinitely, the Committee remains concerned by reports indicating many individuals are held for more than 28 days and that there has allegedly been an increase in cases where the use of immigration detention was used unlawfully. The Committee is further concerned that the Illegal Migration Act 2023 expands the powers and application of detention, and that it: (a) allows for pregnant women to be detained for up to seven days; (b) allows for the detention of children; and (c) establishes that people arriving without proper documentation can be automatically detained for up to 28 days without access to immigration bail or judicial review. Furthermore, the Committee is concerned by reports revealing that anyone subject to immigration control can be subject to surveillance, including through GPS tracking (arts. 7, 9, 10, 13 and 17).

43. Recalling the Committee's previous recommendations, [9] the State party should establish a statutory time limit on the duration of immigration detention and ensure that detention is used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest possible period of time, and increase the use of alternatives to detention, particularly for children, pregnant women and families with children, that are respectful of human rights, including the right to privacy, instead of surveillance-based technological alternatives.

Statelessness and deprivation of citizenship

44. The Committee regrets the lack of information provided by the State party regarding the statelessness determination procedure during the dialogue and is concerned by reports indicating: (a) the use of administrative detention for individuals claiming statelessness; (b) that detained stateless persons are ineligible for free legal assistance for statelessness applications; and (c) that the standard of proof in the statelessness determination procedure is very high (arts. 2, 14, 16, 24 and 26).

45. The State party should provide full and effective protection of stateless people residing in the State party in line with international standards, including the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, and intensify its efforts to ensure that no person becomes or remains stateless, by granting citizenship or by issuing identity documents to stateless persons, where appropriate; to guarantee the right of every child to acquire a nationality; and to develop effective mechanisms to address the situation of stateless persons in the State party, ensuring that any detention of individuals claiming statelessness is reasonable, necessary and proportionate, in accordance with the Committee' s general comment No. 35 (2014) on liberty and security of person, and that alternatives to detention are found in practice, and that legal assistance is provided to them.

46. The Committee remains concerned by increasing reports of deprivation of citizenship in the counter-terrorism context, particularly in the light of the lack of sufficient safeguards in place to protect against statelessness. While noting that decisions to deprive individuals of citizenship occur only when it would be "conducive to the public good", and never when the individual in question would be left stateless, the Committee is concerned that this is not always applied, as exemplified in the case of Shamina Begum who was effectively left stateless following the decision to revoke her citizenship. The Committee is also concerned that under the current legislative framework individuals can be stripped of their British citizenship while abroad and may be denied re-entry to the State party before an appeal has been duly considered. Furthermore, while noting the efforts of the State party that it has secured the repatriation of some individuals, including orphans, from the north-east of the Syrian Arab Republic, the Committee is concerned that many British nationals, including women and children, remain in armed conflict zones (arts. 2, 14, 16, 24 and 26).

47. Recalling the Committee's previous recommendation, [10] the State party should:

(a) Review the legislative framework to ensure that the denial of citizenship, on terrorism grounds, includes appropriate procedural safeguards and is consistent with the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality;

(b) Ensure that, in law and in practice, the necessary safeguards are in place to guarantee that decisions of deprivation of citizenship do not render individuals stateless, and that all decisions are subject to judicial review and fully respect the right to fair legal proceedings, ensuring that all individuals, whether located in the State party or abroad, have adequate access to an independent appeals procedure;

(c) Intensify its efforts to swiftly repatriate all its nationals who are currently in armed conflict zones and their families and children by means of a clear and fair procedure that respects the principle of the best interests of the child and provides adequate access to rehabilitation services and care upon repatriation.


[9] Ibid, para. 21.

[10] Ibid, para. 15.