BLOG: Challenging Hostility with Hope
To mark UK Pro Bono Week 2023, The PILS Project’s team are sharing our reflections on 3 key topics: climate justice, demolishing the hostile environment, and protecting our human rights infrastructure.
In her latest blog post, PILS Membership Coordinator Hilary Perry explains how PILS are part of a legal movement, determined to resist the hostile environment.
Challenging the hostile environment has been a focus of human rights defenders on these islands for over a decade. The phrase “hostile environment” was coined in 2012 by then Home Secretary Theresa May. It describes a set of policies introduced with the objective of making life in the UK more difficult for undocumented individuals.
By embedding immigration control into more aspects of everyday life, these policies have pushed undocumented people into destitution with the aim of motivating them to leave and to dissuade similarly situated individuals from arriving on our shores.
We saw perhaps the most overt attempt at such dissuasion in the Illegal Migration Act 2023. The Illegal Migration Bill was introduced in the House of Commons in March 2023 with the perceived purpose of enabling Rishi Sunak to meet his political ambition of being seen to “stop small boats”.
It is within this context that The PILS Project set challenging the hostile environment as one of the organisation’s three priority areas for 2023. Making it a priority area meant that we would invest greater effort into supporting cases which try to ameliorate both immigration and asylum law and the positions of individuals who are subject to that law. Most of this work has centred around keeping our members informed as the Illegal Migration Bill made its way through Parliament and organising and participating in coalitions comprised of other organisations campaigning against the Bill.
The PILS Project’s work around the Illegal Migration Act has been so important because it allowed us to use our legal expertise to proactively support our NGO and solicitor members. The Illegal Migration Bill passed through Westminster at what was often described as a “breakneck” pace. Not only did this restrict legislative scrutiny, it also put increased pressure on organisations and solicitors providing direct support to asylum seekers and migrants who were faced with questions from their service users and clients about the Bill’s impacts on their lives.
Most of our members simply didn’t have time to engage meaningfully with the legislative process or the content of the proposed legislation. This is why the PILS Project partnered with the Human Rights Consortium to produce a briefing on the changes that the proposed Illegal Migration Bill would have on the asylum system and rights in Northern Ireland.
This briefing had the dual effect of explaining the concerns and implications to our members, which they could use to support their service users, and of highlighting Northern Ireland specific concerns to which it appeared that parliamentarians had not turned their attention. The PILS Project then also alongside our partners the Human Rights Consortium and the Committee on the Administration of Justice, raised these Northern Ireland specific issues in a separate briefing coordinated by Liberty, which was circulated to peers in the House of Lords when the Bill progressed to that chamber.
Unfortunately, The PILS Project’s concerns around the Illegal Migration Act largely remain unchanged from those advanced while the Bill was making its way through Parliament. When it came into force in August 2023, the Illegal Migration Act replaced the UK’s asylum system with a system of mandatory detention and removal of all individuals who arrive in the UK by way of a third country and enter without the necessary immigration documents. This, in and of itself, is a breach of the UK’s obligations under the Refugee Convention. The Act further restricts access to the Courts, including to enforce breaches of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), which is inconsistent with the UK’s obligations under the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. It also subjects victims of human trafficking and modern slavery to detention and removal which breaches the EU Trafficking Directive and Northern Ireland’s own trafficking legislation, and results in a non-diminution of rights on the island of Ireland, contrary to the UK’s commitments under the Protocol/Windsor Framework.
The PILS Project’s efforts to challenge the Act continue.
When it became clear that the Bill would receive Royal Assent, PILS brought together a group of immigration and asylum lawyers qualified in Northern Ireland to begin crafting potential challenges to the Illegal Migration Act. This group remains a resource for barristers and solicitors to enable lawyers to respond strategically when their client’s case presents an opportunity to challenge the law.
The PILS Project has further sought a legal opinion on how to challenge the provisions of the Illegal Migration Act that preclude individuals from challenging their removal on the basis that it breaches their human rights under the ECHR. Most recently, we have facilitated the Human Rights Consortium’s support for the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s own motion challenge to the Illegal Migration Act 2023.
While the Illegal Migration Act 2023 is one of the most horrific affronts to the human rights of asylum seekers in the UK, the resistance that civil society has shown to the hostile environment that the government is trying to create has been nothing short of inspiring.
The PILS Project has been proud to be a part of the movement to combat that inhospitable climate, and will continue to use our legal skills and expertise in human rights and equality to challenge this government’s hostile environment.
Here are some of my thoughts about challenging the hostile environment on this UK Pro Bono Week.
— Hilary Miller-Perry (@hilperry) November 8, 2023