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Peer To Propose Child Exemption In Tough New Illegal Migration Law

Lord Dubs has been a long-time advocate for the rights of child refugees (Alamy)

5 min read

Labour peer Lord Alf Dubs will table two amendments to the government’s Illegal Migration Bill, including calling for unaccompanied children to be exempt from being made inadmissible.

Lord Dubs will also propose that asylum-seekers be allowed to make human rights claims after six months if they have not been removed from the UK.

The Illegal Migration Bill, which began its passage through the House of Lords this week, has already been voted through the House of Commons and aims to curtail the rights of asylum seekers if they did not arrive in the UK via a legal route.

The legislation as it stands would remove people who arrived via illegal routes to a ‘third’ country and would ban them from ever returning or claiming citizenship.

The Bill currently includes the power to remove unaccompanied children and under certain conditions they would have any asylum or human rights claim they make declared as inadmissible.

Lord Dubs, who arrived in England as a child refugee fleeing Nazi persecution in Czechoslovakia in 1939, will table an amendment to make unaccompanied children exempt from being ruled as inadmissible to the UK under asylum policy.

The Labour peer argued his amendment would simply continue the policy of previous governments of exempting children from the harsher aspects of asylum policy.

“People will see it as a retrograde step to have unaccompanied children who come across the channel in a boat not be allowed to claim asylum and be locked up,” he told PoliticsHome. 

“It's awful. So by exempting them from that, I think we would be going back to what the position was some time ago.”

He is also putting forward an amendment to require the Home Secretary to consider a protection or human rights claim if an asylum applicant has not been removed from the UK within six months of their claim being deemed inadmissible.

“This would clearly put pressure on the authorities to get on with deciding the claim, and if they haven't assigned the claim then that will give [the asylum-seeker] protection,” Dubs told PoliticsHome.

“Their claim would have to be considered as if they'd come by a legal path.”

The Bill was debated on Wednesday during its second reading in the House of Lords, with dozens of peers speaking out in opposition. 

Speaking in the chamber, the Archbishop of Canterbury strongly criticised the Bill and said there were “too many problems in this Bill for one speech”. 

Baroness Susan Kramer, the daughter of a Jewish refugee, recounted her own family's story of claiming asylum in the UK, and said that the government now would send her mother to Rwanda as an "undesirable".

Former home secretary Lord David Blunkett told PoliticsHome he thinks the government is setting “elephant traps” with the Illegal Migration Bill in which they intend to blame human rights courts, the Labour Party and the Lords for blocking harsher elements of the legislation. 

Dubs agreed with Blunkett’s assessment. “I think [the government] will attack the unelected Lords and try to put us outside of public opinion, but our job in putting the arguments forward is to realise that public opinion has to be influenced; and we want to influence public opinion to be more humane in its attitude to refugees,” he said. 

After Wednesday’s debate, Dubs said it was clear the government would be met with fierce opposition as the Bill proceeds through the Lords. 

“I think the overwhelming view was that people did not like the Bill,” he said. 

“Even quite a few Conservatives were not happy about it. The government will have a very difficult time once we get to committee stage, because I just don't think they're going to find the majority.

“They will find it quite difficult to whip on some of these. There will be some heated discussion and I expect the bill to be amended in a number of important respects to make it less bad than it is.”

On Wednesday, Home Secretary Suella Braverman and the new justice secretary Alex Chalk wrote an op-ed in The Times in which they urged peers to back the bill that they say is “designed to meet the will of the British people”.

However, Lord Dubs believes this will do little to dissuade Lords from putting forward multiple amendments to reduce the Bill’s powers. 

“She's really taken an anti-refugee position, both in the language she's used and the things that she said,” he said.

“I think it's just a plea by her, but I don't think it'll cut much ice with the Lords.”

Ministers have admitted that the Bill is incompatible with various international human rights laws and conventions, a point on which Dubs thinks there will be successful amendments pushed through. 

“I think the net effect of the Bill, plus the comments made, are very dangerous, because it undermines the principle of asylum,” he said.

“I think it's a shockingly horrible bill frankly. There will be a lot of amendments, including some about making sure that everything in the Bill is compatible with the European Convention.”

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