On April 26, the government’s cruel and unworkable Illegal Migration Bill passed its third reading in the House of Commons. It will now go to the House of Lords for consideration, where it, if passed, will become law.
At its core, this Bill denies adequate protection and a fair hearing to refugees seeking safety in the UK. It breaches the European Convention of Human Rights and fails to meet human rights obligations under the Refugee Convention and the UN Convention on Rights of the Child.
What does the Bill entail?
Once it is law, every individual who entered the UK through ‘irregular routes’ since March 7, 2023, will no longer have the right to seek asylum. Instead, all those seeking safety will be criminalised, and face immediate detention and eventual removal to a ‘safe’ country, like Rwanda. (It is important to note there are currently no ‘regular’ means that allow people to enter the UK to claim asylum — resettlement schemes like Homes for Ukraine bypass the asylum process.)
According to research by the Refugee Council, this would result in nearly 200,000 people — including pregnant women and children — being held in detention facilities by the UK government. It will remove the current 72-hour time limit on the detention of pregnant women and allow for their indefinite detention.
The Bill also sets out to remove all safety-nets for survivors of human trafficking, including the specific protections offered in Scotland. Instead of deterring trafficking networks, the absence of safeguards and the threat of deportation will give perpetrators more leverage over their victims. Survivors of human trafficking are thus more likely to be driven underground and subjected to further exploitation.
How will this affect pregnant women seeking safety?
The consequences of this Bill are truly horrifying. At Amma, we are deeply concerned about the impact it will have on all people seeking safety, but particularly on pregnant women and their children.
Currently, more than 70% of the women we support are in the asylum process, and at least one third are survivors of trafficking. This includes women and birthing people who have experienced complex trauma, domestic and gender-based violence, sexual abuse and/or exploitation, and FGM.
These women already face multiple barriers to accessing maternity care and other necessary supports during pregnancy and birth — and these barriers will only increase with the introduction of this new law. If implemented, it is likely we will see:
- A rise in the number of pregnant women who either present late to maternity services or who do not access care at all out of fear of being reported to the Home Office
- Pregnant women and new parents forced into staying in dangerous and exploitative situations, making it more difficult for our team to safely provide support
- More pregnant women in detention facilities or closely guarded institutionalised accommodation — the dire and potentially life-threatening ramifications of which are well documented
- Poorer birth outcomes and a severe decline in mental health amongst women who are already at higher risk of adverse maternal and neonatal outcomes, including poorer perinatal mental health, congenital anomalies, and preterm birth
- Heightened pressure on third sector organisations to fill the gaps in essential support provision
What can we do?
We, like so many others who reject the Bill, are utterly dismayed it has progressed this far. But it is yet to go to the House of Lords, so there’s still time to act.
This government wants us to think there’s no alternative to hostility, but there is. It says this is what the people want, but it isn’t. It aims to distract from its own failings by blaming migrants, but we see right through the inflammatory language, racist rhetoric, and unfounded claims designed to stoke fear and hatred. People’s lives are being endangered for political gains, and we simply won’t accept it.
It’s easy to feel helpless in the face of such deeply entrenched systems of oppression. We often hear our volunteers say, “I’m not sure if I’m doing enough — I’m just holding a hand, just listening…”. But these seemingly small acts of kindness that our companions provide have a cumulative effect — and together, they offer a powerful buffer to the everyday hostility our clients face.
At Amma, we believe that a little bit of unconditional support can go a long way. While we don’t have the power to stop the Bill, we can provide a healing, nurturing environment where all birthing people and their babies can thrive.
This is why we will continue to stand in solidarity with refugees — today, and always. No matter where someone comes from, how they got here, or what the politicians say, we will always be there for every woman and birthing person in need of our support.
But we can’t do it alone. Please show your support for organisations like Amma and countless other community groups and charities in Glasgow that offer a compassionate alternative to hostility.
We will continue to call for a fair, humane approach to welcoming refugees to the UK — and we hope you’ll join us.
- Check out this 10-point plan that outlines what individuals and organisations can do to respond to far-right hostility.
- Watch this helpful video by Freedom From Torture all about how NOT to talk about refugees and migrants — words matter!
- Stay up-to-date with what’s happening in Scotland in relation to the Bill — follow Scottish Refugee Council and JustRight Scotland.
- Get involved with Amma – volunteer, fundraise, or donate to help us create a community of care for pregnant women and new parents seeking safety in Glasgow.