(24 May) The heads of 13 UK charities, including UNA-UK, have written to Foreign Secretary James Cleverly about the planned Illegal Migration Bill. They warn the Bill will obliterate the rights of women and girls.
The Bill is currently at committee stage at the House of Lords. If passed, it would lead the UK to violate the rights of women and girls fleeing persecution, violence or conflict. It would put survivors at risk - and damage the UK’s credibility on gender equality and its ability to galvanise other countries to increase their efforts to meet international commitments.
The 13 organisations - all working to advance the Women, Peace and Security agenda and gender equality in development - urge the Secretary of State to raise our concerns with colleagues in Government and call on them to put a stop to this cruel and harmful Bill.
Read the letter in full below:
Dear Secretary of State,
Cc Lord Ahmad, Andrew Mitchell
We represent several organisations working to advance the Women, Peace and Security agenda and gender equality in development. We have a long-standing relationship with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, working in partnership with the Department for many years to advance gender equality and protect the rights of women and girls around the world.
Just recently you marked International Women’s Day by publishing a new International Women and Girls Strategy, in November 2022 you hosted an International Ministerial Conference on the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative and in February 2023 published the new National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security. We welcomed these commitments, they have the potential to truly make a difference in the lives of countless women and girls, advance peace and promote gender equality as well as enable the UK to continue to be a leader in this field.
We were therefore dismayed by the lack of understanding of gender equality displayed by the Government with the introduction of the Illegal Migration Bill. The initiatives mentioned above recognise the negative impact of conflict on women and girls and commit the UK to secure meaningful, positive change by increasing women and girls’ agency to take control over their own life.
And yet, the proposed law will instead put the UK in the position of violating the rights of women and girls, among others, and increase misery in their lives as they flee persecution, conflict or violence. Survivors of sexual violence, human trafficking and torture will be among many women and girls at great risk, including of new or continuing sexual violence, exploitation and abuse.
The women and girls who will have their rights to asylum obliterated by the Bill are the same ones you claim to want to protect and empower. The reality is that no claim for asylum in the UK can be made from outside the country and journeys to the UK are made unsafe by the absence of visas for the purpose of seeking asylum in addition to wider conditions that affect the safety and agency of people fleeing conflict, persecution and exploitation.
Introducing this Bill to simply refuse any protection here to the women and girls who seek asylum by the only routes available to them is to reject the right of women and girls to seek asylum in the UK while expecting other countries to respect this right, even as the UK is refusing to do so itself.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan has declared the situation for women and girls to amount to gender persecution, a crime against humanity. As a result, women and girls should be considered prima facie refugees, but they have extremely limited opportunities to claim asylum in a safe way. For others, most recently those escaping the conflict in Sudan, there are no routes at all. Embarking on a dangerous journey and ending up in a dinghy to attempt to cross the Channel is a choice born out of desperation and the instinct for survival that we all share as human beings.
This law, if passed, will also damage the UK’s credibility on gender equality and its ability to galvanise other countries to join forces and increase their efforts to meet international commitments. It will send a clear message: do as I say, not as I do. That can only increase the prospect that others refuse to do as the UK says, but rather simply follow its lead in violating or rejecting their own obligations under international law.
Acting in a truly compassionate manner and respecting the rights of women and girls fleeing conflict and persecution, is possible as we have seen with the Government’s effort to welcome refugees from Ukraine. It is possible to establish safe routes, strengthen family reunion pathways, clear the backlog of the asylum system and process claims made in the UK fairly and efficiently. As the Bill continues its passage through the Lords, we urge you to raise these concerns with colleagues in Government, including the Prime Minister, and call on them to put a stop to this cruel and harmful Bill.
Action Aid UK, John Good, Interim CEO
Amnesty International UK, Sacha Deshmukh, Chief Executive
Gender Action for Peace and Security, Eva Tabbasam, Director
Gender and Development Network, Jessica Woodroffe, Director
Oxfam GB, Ms Aleema Shivji, Chief Impact Officer
Peace Direct, Harriet Knox Brown, Deputy CEO
Plan International UK, Rose Caldwell, CEO
Saferworld, Paul Murphy, Executive Director
Security Women, Dr Juliet Colman, Director
United Nations Association UK, Marissa Conway, CEO
Womankind, Caroline Haworth, CEO
Women's International League for Peace and Freedom UK, Paula Shaw, President
Women’s Platform, Jonna Monaghan, Director
- Read UNA-UK’s statement urging MPs and Lords to oppose the Bill
- Read the UK Human Rights Committee’s report on the Illegal Migration Bill
- See the UN Refugees Agency’s formal legal observations on the Illegal Migration Bill
- Learn more about the Women Peace and Security agenda in UNA-UK’s magazine: A First Aid Kit for the World
Photo: Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and Minister for Armed Forces James Heappey at the launch of the 2023-2027 UK Women, Peace and Security National Action Plan. Credit: Alice Hodgson / No 10 Downing Street.