THE United Nations has issued an extraordinary statement condemning the UK Government for being “in breach of international law” with its newly passed Illegal Migration Bill.

It comes after Tories in the House of Lords crushed a series of renewed challenges to key aspects of the bill by peers.

In a night of drama on Monday, the Conservative frontbench saw off five further changes being sought by the unelected chamber to the Illegal Migration Bill, including modern slavery protections and child detention limits.

The reforms are a key part of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s bid to deter people from making hazardous Channel crossings in small boats.

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They will prevent people from claiming asylum in the UK if they arrive through unauthorised means – something which is direct contravention of the 1951 Convention on Refugees, to which the UK is a signatory.

The UK Government also hopes the changes will ensure detained people are promptly removed, either to their home country or a third country such as Rwanda, which is currently the subject of a legal challenge.

On Tuesday, the UN stepped in. Issuing an extraordinary joint statement, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk (below) and UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi condemned the UK’s actions.

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“This new legislation significantly erodes the legal framework that has protected so many, exposing refugees to grave risks in breach of international law,” Grandi said.

“In addition to raising very serious legal concerns from the the international perspective, this bill sets a worrying precedent for dismantling asylum-related obligations that other countries, including in Europe, may be tempted to follow, with a potentially adverse effect on the international refugee and human rights protection system as a whole,” Turk added.

“I urge the UK Government to renew this commitment to human rights by reversing this law and ensuring that the rights of all migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers are respected, protected and fulfilled, without discrimination.

“This should include efforts to guarantee expeditious and fair processing of asylum and human rights claims, improve reception conditions, and increase the availability and accessibility of safe pathways for regular migration.”

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Grandi said: “[The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] shares the UK Government’s concern regarding the number of asylum-seekers resorting to dangerous journeys across the Channel. We welcome current efforts to make the existing asylum system work more effectively through fast, fair and efficient case processing, that allows the integration of those found to be in need of international protection and the swift return home of those who have no legal basis to stay.

“Regrettably, this progress will be significantly undermined by the new legislation. Cooperation with European and other partners along the routes through which refugees and migrants are moving is also key.”

The UN’s intervention comes as an accommodation barge set to house 500 migrants was on the move.

The plans involving the Bibby Stockholm barge in Portland Port, Dorset, are a month behind schedule but the vessel has finally left Falmouth, Cornwall, where work was being carried out to prepare it for its new role.

Downing Street defended the use of barges to house migrants, insisting it is a cheaper alternative to housing them in hotels.

The first asylum seekers are expected to board the Bibby Stockholm later this month.

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When asked about the UN's intervention, a Home Office spokesperson supplied a boilerplater response which does not engage with it at all. 

They said: “The number of people risking their lives by making illegal and dangerous journeys is unacceptable – we must stop the boats.

“Our Illegal Migration Bill is a key part of our work to deter and prevent people from making small boat crossings, as it will see people who make these dangerous, illegal and unnecessary journeys detained and swiftly removed.

“We are pleased that the bill has passed all its stages through Parliament – we will now look forward to the bill receiving Royal Assent so we can bring in its changes as soon as possible.”

You can read the UN's full statement here.