This week, the Home Secretary announced that she had signed an order bringing parts of the Government’s harsh new anti-refugee law – known as the Illegal Migration Act 2023 – into force from 28 September.  

The Home Secretary’s order – called a statutory instrument – gives legal effect to several troubling powers. So, what exactly is coming into effect?  

Indefinite detention

Section 12 gives the Home Secretary the power to detain refugees and victims of modern slavery of all ages for as long as she thinks is reasonable. The Home Secretary – not the courts – will now have authority to say what is ‘reasonable’. There is no time limit and no requirement to get a judge’s permission.  

Even for terrorist suspects, the UK has a pre-charge detention time limit requiring judicial oversight. The cruel irony is that refugees fleeing terrorism can be locked up in the UK for longer than terrorists – and with fewer judicial safeguards.   

This is all happening in the context of the Home Office’s consistent failure to treat people humanely while in detention, including ordering that children’s cartoons be painted over at a centre in Dover and tragic suicides of detainees. 

Home Secretary to control ‘safe country’ list

Section 59 gives the Home Secretary the power to add countries to a list of “safe countries” where citizens of those nations can be returned. Any asylum and protection claims being made by those nationals will be automatically inadmissible. This list includes normally safe countries in the European Union, but also countries such as Albania where the Home Office’s own Country Policy and Information Note from earlier this year concedes that human trafficking – including for sexual exploitation – is common, with victims being in the thousands. 

Given the Government’s plans to remove refugees to Rwanda – found to violate the right not to be tortured or subjected to inhumane or degrading treatment by the Court of Appeal in June this year – there is serious concern about the Home Office’s judgement on what amounts to a “safe country”. While Parliament will have to approve any additional countries, this will not involve full parliamentary scrutiny as countries are to be added by statutory instrument. The last time the House of Lords rejected a statutory instrument was in 2015 and in 1979 for the House of Commons.  

Capping number of refugees

Section 60 gives the Home Secretary the power to put a cap on the number of refugees coming to the UK using safe routes. The UK only has a very modest number of safe routes for refugees from Ukraine and Afghanistan and this order could limit even those routes. 

PLP Senior Researcher, Lee Marsons said: 

“28 September will be a sad day for the human rights of refugees and victims of modern slavery, as well as the UK’s global reputation as a country committed to the international rule of law. These powers authorise indefinite executive detention of vulnerable people, increase the chances of persecuted people being forcibly returned to countries where their safety is at risk, and could undermine even the small number of safe routes for refugees that the UK has currently.

“They contradict long cherished British traditions and the UK’s international commitments and have been publicly criticised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Council of Europe. The Government should repeal this harmful law and work out a humane alternative.” 

The Home Secretary’s full statutory instrument can be found here and PLP’s briefings for the law’s second reading and committee stage in the House of Commons are available here and here