LONDON — The British government pushed its contentious migration bill forward in Parliament on Monday, despite a call from Europe’s top human rights organization for lawmakers to block the legislation.
The Illegal Migration Bill would bar asylum claims by anyone who reaches the U.K. by unauthorized means, and compel the government to detain and then deport them “to their home country or a safe third country.” They would be banned from ever reentering the U.K.
As the House of Commons held the first of two days of debate on the legislation, the 46-nation Council of Europe said the bill’s provisions “create clear and direct tension with well-established and fundamental human rights standards.”
“It is essential that parliamentarians prevent legislation that is incompatible with the United Kingdom’s international obligations being passed,” the council’s human rights commissioner, Dunja Mijatović, said in a letter to British lawmakers.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak insisted the legislation did not breach Britain’s international obligations.
“This is a tough piece of legislation, the likes of which we haven’t seen,” he said. “It’s important that it is effective, which it will be. It is also important that we abide by our international obligations. This is a country and a government that does follow the law.”
Britain receives fewer asylum-seekers than some European nations such as Italy, Germany or France. But thousands of migrants from around the world travel to northern France each year in hopes of reaching the U.K., drawn by family ties, the English language or the perceived ease of getting a job.
Most attempt the journey in dinghies and other small craft now that authorities have clamped down on other routes such as stowing away on buses or trucks. More than 45,000 people arrived in Britain by boat in 2022, up from 28,000 in 2021 and 8,500 in 2020.
The government says the new law, once approved by Parliament, will deter migrants and hobble smuggling gangs who send desperate people on hazardous journeys across one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
But charities and refugee groups say it is unethical, unworkably and likely illegal. The United Nations’ refugee agency said the law would be a “clear breach of the Refugee Convention” and amount to an “asylum ban.”
The government is facing competing calls from legislators to toughen up and water down the bill.
Legislators from the right wing of the governing Conservative Party want the government to go even further and act to prevent the European Court of Human Rights from blocking deportations. More liberal Tories are urging the government to accompany the bill with new safe, legal routes for asylum-seekers to reach the U.K.