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Illegal migration: a new criminalisation threat

10 July 2023

Nautilus International is joining with union partners to take on the proposed Illegal Migration Bill, which poses grave risks for transport workers including seafarers. Rob Coston reports.

In early 2023, Home Secretary Suella Braverman introduced the Illegal Migration Bill to Parliament.

Among other aims, the Bill is supposed to ‘prevent people who come to the UK through illegal and dangerous journeys’ from blocking their removal. Anyone who arrives through ‘irregular’ means will be deemed inadmissible to the UK asylum system and cannot challenge their removal using rules related to modern slavery.

The Bill also seeks to ‘put a stop to illegal migration into the UK by removing the incentive to make dangerous small boat crossings’.

The Bill has been rushed through Parliament by the government. On 26 April MPs backed it by 289 votes to 230 and it progressed to the House of Lords.

It is now in the last stages before becoming law, having passed the committee stage it will soon go for a third reading in the House of Lords before consideration of any amendments and then Royal Assent.

Trade unions have joined refugee charities in opposing the Bill, both on humanitarian grounds and because of the threat that is poses to their members.

TUC campaign

The TUC has been spearheading a campaign against the Bill, and has sought Nautilus support and legal advice on the issues that it poses for working people.

It has identified three areas where the Bill has particular impacts on working people. Two of these relate to the migrants themselves, with TUC warning that migrant workers will be targeted for removal, and that those who manage to remain in the country illegally will be pushed into the informal economy, where they are vulnerable to exploitation by the worst employers who will be able to violate their rights with impunity.

It is very concerning that the Bill introduces powers for an immigration officer to require a ship’s captain to prevent someone from disembarking the ship, or to detain someone in legal custody.

The third area is of particular concern to Nautilus. The TUC warns that under government amendments to the Bill, transport workers such as pilots, captains, train drivers and lorry drivers could be required by an immigration officer to ‘restrain and detain’ asylum seekers – failure to follow such an instruction could result in criminal prosecution.

This is because Amendment 90 to the Bill would create a criminal offence relating to the failure ‘without reasonable excuse’ for transport workers to assist with the deportation of a migrant from the UK ‘when required to do so’.

‘This Bill has total disregard for the ethical views and legal obligations that these working people might have,’ the TUC says.

Legal and physical dangers

Commenting on the Bill, Nautilus head of legal services Charles Boyle says: 'It is very concerning that the Bill introduces powers for an immigration officer to require a ship’s captain to prevent someone from disembarking the ship, or to detain someone in legal custody.

'Ship’s captains and their crews are not trained to carry out such tasks. This provision could leave them open to civil action from someone claiming unlawful detention, or possibly criminalisation for failure to carry out the relevant order.'

Fighting back against the Bill

The TUC’s campaign continues. As well as lobbying MPs to oppose the Bill in its entirety, and briefing them on the specific issues of concern, TUC has been briefing the media and also pursuing the available legal options.

This includes a submission to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which sets out how TUC believes the Bill contravenes the UK’s legal requirements under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Nautilus International will keep members updated as to the results of the campaign, and any potential criminalisation risks to members as the Bill progresses towards coming into force.


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