In July 2023, the passing into law of the Illegal Migration Act created a near-total ban on seeking safety in the UK. But against huge odds and in the face of the UK Government’s determination to push through these cruel and divisive measures, communities across the country have united to fight this anti-refugee bill and defend the right to seek safety. As we face the implementation of this Act and the continued fight against the #AntiRefugeeLaws, it’s important to look back and recognise how our communities and local leaders have mobilised, and recognise our growing collective strength and power as we move forward to repeal this appalling Act.
In December 2022, Birmingham City Council became the first council to sign the Fight the Anti-Refugee Laws pledge. Campaigner, student and refugee Mika spoke to ITV about why these anti-refugee laws will make life so much harder for people like her who have come to the UK to seek safety, while Councillor John Cotton told ITV why it’s important that Local Authorities speak out about the Bill:
“[…] it’s really clear that this anti-refugee legislation that is being passed by Government is deeply unjust […]. We’re talking about people who are fleeing war and persecution and other forms of discrimination, and it’s really important that we stand up and say that there needs to be a fair system that ensures that people are able to seek safety in our country today.”
In January 2023, Newham Council passed a motion calling on the Government to abandon the Refugee Ban Bill, while in March, following an approach by the WERS Community Campaigns Group, Cllr Lesley Storey brought a motion defending the right to seek safety to Newcastle City Council. WERS group members were there to watch the motion pass unanimously, and campaigners Bushee and Fatma spoke out about the Bill in a local newspaper.
Later in March, Penistone Town Council passed a unanimous, cross-party motion recognising that people seeking safety should have the opportunity to rebuild their lives and be able to have their cases heard in a fair and timely way in the UK. Bradford City Council then passed a motion calling for the Bill to be scrapped, with Council Leader Susan Hinchcliffe saying: “Refugees are individuals with hopes and dreams, just like all of us. We should not talk about them as a homogenised group – that is lazy politics. Government knows what they are proposing is unworkable, but if it gets votes for them they don’t care. They are running a country on soundbites.”
A few days later, Cllr David Welsh signed the Fight the Anti-Refugee Laws Pledge on behalf of Coventry City Council, with campaigners from Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre joining him to watch the Pledge be signed.
As the Refugee Ban Bill went to third reading in the House of Commons, Newcastle groups joined with the Council to restate their intention to fight these appalling measures, while Jamie Driscoll, the North of Tyne Mayor, became the first Metro Mayor to sign the Fight the Anti-Refugee Laws pledge.
In April, Tynemouth Together With Refugees marched from Tynemouth to Whitley Bay to protest the Bill; campaigners gathered in Halifax and Sheffield to demonstrate, supported by MP Olivia Blake; Stroud District Council passed a cross-party motion calling for the Bill to be withdrawn; and the Scottish Parliament passed a motion deeming the Bill “dehumanising and immoral”, arguing that it would risk undermining the UK’s international obligations.
In May, across the UK campaigners continue to speak out, including organisations across Greater Manchester who held a rally in St Peter’s Square, whilst GMIAU organised an action highlighting the harm the Bill will do to communities in Greater Manchester.
In June, following a London-wide Emergency Summit on the Bill, the Mayor of London called on the UK Government to urgently rethink the “cruel and unworkable” Bill, warning that more than 50,000 people in London will be unable to access support or work and left highly vulnerable to exploitation and homelessness.
Later that month, councillors in Ealing passed a motion to defend the right to seek safety and become a Council of Sanctuary, with councillors from refugee backgrounds sharing their experiences. Councillor Bassam Mahfouz said:
“For me, and for so many people in this room, this motion isn’t just a motion, it’s personal.[…] Refugees may have come here having lost their homes, their jobs, sometimes even their families, but they still have their experiences and skills, they still have opinions, memories, dreams, loves and they still have their determination to build a good life.”
Refugee Week also saw a huge amount of action against the Bill across the UK: from Stockton-on-Tees to Sandwell, Penistone to Sunderland, campaigners shared the news of the Bill with members of the public, mobilising people to write to their MPs to oppose the Bill. In Birmingham, Asylum Matters, Restore and RMC organised a March for Compassion which saw dozens of people come out in solidarity with refugees, while in Newcastle, the West End Refugee Service Community Campaigns Group heard from local people that the Bill is the “opposite of compassionate”.
Meanwhile, the Mayor of Greater Manchester and all 10 Greater Manchester Leaders sent a public letter to the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities calling on the Government to ‘step back’ from the Bill. On World Refugee Day, the Welsh Parliament voted against the Bill, with the majority of Members of the Senedd voting to refuse consent for the Bill.
On 5 July, Sheffield City Council unanimously voted to reaffirm its status as a City of Sanctuary, with Green, Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem councillors uniting to fight the #AntiRefugeeLaws.
On 12 July, as parliamentary ping-pong of the Bill continued, Manchester City Council unanimously voted to work to become a Council of Sanctuary and called on the Government to halt the Illegal Migration Bill. And as the Bill finally passed, over 290 organisations from across the UK publicly resolved to continue fighting for the right to seek safety.
In late July, Calderdale Council passed a motion to defend the right to seek safety and become a Council of Sanctuary, refusing to allow the passage of the Bill to deter the community’s work to make Calderdale, and the wider UK, a welcoming place, while Hackney Council condemned the passing of the Act and resolved to also become a Council of Sanctuary.
This is just a snapshot of the principled resistance that so many people have put up against the UK Government’s harmful plans. As we look to the future and to repealing the #AntiRefugeeLaws, we know we have built strong foundations for this fight.
There are many ways you can take action to fight the #AntiRefugeeLaws in your community or as an individual:
- Call on your Local Authority to defend the right to seek safety
- Learn more about the Fight the #AntiRefugeeLaws Pledge and sign as a group or organisation
- Sign the #AntiRefugeeLaws Pledge as an individual
- Call on your MP to commit to challenging these laws
- Spread the word and share Fight the #AntiRefugeeLaws resources on social media.