By Fidelis Chebe and Georgia Hawthorne
On Tuesday the 6th of February, Migrant Action and Right To Remain co-hosted a workshop event discussing the Illegal Migration Act (IMA), how it is being enforced and how it is impacting our community. This event brought together a collective of different charities, organisations and individuals who are seeking to challenge the hostile effects of the IMA, and who support migrants within the local area. Events like these remind us of the importance of community, collective action and collective power. It is through coming together and collaborating that we can better address the unjust impacts of migration policies and support those who are vulnerable within our society.
A Note on Language:
The Illegal Migration Act is problematic in its coding of human beings as legal or illegal. This following quote from Right To Remain details their difficulty with this term,
[The term “illegal”] is clearly dehumanising and apathetic to the experiences of people seeking sanctuary or a better life, whose journey to the United Kingdom (UK) was dictated by nothing more than an accident of birth. Second, it is factually incorrect. The act of migrating is not inherently illegal – not under entrenched principles of international law and policy. People move; we always have, and we always will. Third, it is grammatically incorrect. In any other arena, if an individual commits a crime, they do something illegal, they don’t become something illegal. In this way, our well-known belief that #NoOneIsIllegal has become increasingly poignant and urgent. 
What is the Illegal Migration Act?
In short, the IMA is a piece of legislation which aims to stop migration to the UK by irregular means: whether that’s small boat crossings, travelling clandestinely, or using false documents to arrive and remain in the UK. The Illegal Migration Bill passed into law in July 2023, thus becoming an Act, but not all sections of the Act have yet been enforced.
In the workshop presentation, the Right to Remain legal education officer Leah Cowling, set out the legal technicalities of the Act. The presentation highlighted what parts of the Act have and have not been enforced, which sections are workable or unworkable, and the currently not-enforced lynchpin of the Act. This Right To Remain blog explicitly unpacked the legal technicalities of the Act: link.
The IMA goes against the Refugee Convention of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and is incompatible with both the European Convention Against Trafficking (ECAT) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). In the workshop discussion, it is acknowledged that deterrence is largely ineffective at stopping the flow of migration and rather, exacerbates the risk and danger of unsafe routes to the UK. Also, the potential criminalisation of asylum would likely result in more poverty, destitution and vulnerability to exploitation, abuse and other forms of migrant injustice within the UK for precarious migrants with insecure/irregular migration status.
See Right to Remains’ blog post that provides a good summary of this: Link. These migrant vulnerabilities and injustices are confronted through Migrant Action’s advice and casework whereby we provide a range of support interventions with limited resources.
The Impact of the IMA on our Communities
Through a panel discussion and group tasks, we spent time examining the impact of the IMA on our communities. Key themes of fear, anxiety and distrust were voiced, with it being emphasised that such a hostile Act impacts everyone not just migrants. The increased pressure felt amongst volunteer groups seeking to fill gaps in current UK welfare provision was also noted, with the opacity and fluctuating nature of the Act making it difficult to keep up with, to understand, and to challenge in this sector.
- The importance of collaborative and a collective effort – we are stronger together.
The collective organising of campaigns allows for creativity and endurance in tackling social injustice and in supporting those who are vulnerable in our community. Connections between groups should be fostered and encouraged through more events like this workshop.
- It is time to ‘mainstream’ issues of migration (in)justice.
We need to stop discussing and treating issues of migration injustice as niche problems that only impact a portion of our community. Issues facing many migrants in the UK – such as destitution and homelessness, mental health struggles, inaccessible healthcare – overlap with issues faced by all of us. Bridges need to be forged between migration charities and other sectors, in turn strengthening our potential power as a collective.
- More public education
Awareness and understanding of complex migration issues (legislation, policies, context and impact analyses etc) in order to prevent harmful narratives/practices and effective organising for positive change requires public education and community engagement.
Migrant Action is a rights and migrant justice organisation supporting vulnerable migrants including, but not limited to, people confronted by insecure and irregular immigration status. We anticipate that IMA will force more people into this category who will reach out for support from Migrant Action. In preparing for the Act as part of a wider network and support infrastructure, we will continue to develop learning and community organising partnerships with other organisations to strengthen public education and building capacity for system change.