IT’S Groundhog Day. In the past two years, more than 43 immigration prevention interventions and rules have been introduced by the UK Government, all of which appear to have failed. Most are under three-word slogans I won’t repeat.

The latest immigration bill, introduced on March 7, 2023, less than 12 months since the Nationality and Borders Act received royal assent in 2022, is entitled the Illegal Immigration Bill.

UNHCR UK have already issued a statement expressing their “profound concern”.

“UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is profoundly concerned by the asylum bill introduced by the UK Government to the House of Commons today. In its current form, the bill compels the Home Secretary to deny access to the UK asylum system to those who arrive irregularly. Rather than being provided with protection, these asylum-seekers would instead be subject to detention in the UK, while arrangements are pursued to remove them to another country.”

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the nuances of UN discourse, “profoundly concerned” means “incandescent with rage”.

The bill states explicitly the intention to move away from laws which do not allow the Home Secretary to deport at will.

Vicky Tennant, the UNHCR representative to the United Kingdom (so a senior diplomat, known for diplomatic language), spoke to Kirsty Wark on Newsnight and said: “We are very concerned as the UN Refugee Agency. This is effectively closing off asylum to people arriving into the UK. We believe it is a clear breach of the Refugee Convention. Remember, even people with very compelling complaints will simply not have the opportunity to put these forward.”

There are three clear points to be made about the new bill:

1) It is important we do not further normalise talk of “illegal immigrants”. The preferred term in academic literature is “irregular migration” because it acknowledges that when fleeing persecution and being subject to many precarious and difficult journeys, including often the loss of belongings and papers, many people end up without the means to easily prove who they are.

This is “irregular” but it is not a criminal act. It is not their fault and is often the only way they were able to stay safe.

The ramped-up rhetoric used to describe people seeking asylum is dangerous and must be resisted, and named for its inflammatory and often violent consequences.

It is important that we continue to care for the words we use on the borders of people’s lives and assert the dignity of the whole human being. In this regard, we must also avoid speaking over much of “humanising” people. People are human and to do this suggests, as Hyab Yohannes has stated, that individuals receiving this treatment are somehow less than human and must be produced again as human.

The term “illegal immigration” has been deemed inaccurate and misleading by Associated Press as far back as 2013 and is being used here with the intent of inflaming an activist sector and stating that some humans are not human enough to be subjects of rights.

2) Lawyers are commenting strongly on this and pouring over the fine print. Their collective view – notably, the immigration lawyers – is that the bill is badly drafted, self-contradictory, and centres enormous responsibility – and therefore power – on the personal duties of the Home Secretary. They see it as setting up a standoff with the European Court on Human Rights (ECHR).

Remember, the ECHR is not the EU but an institution established by the UK and other countries to safeguard human rights after the Holocaust. Many see this as setting the “culture wars battleground” for the next General Election – to be fought on removing human rights from those in the “enemy camp”. Language matters. This is not peace.

The Home Secretary is using dehumanising language about lawyers, academics and activists speaking out of preventing her actions, by using the law. She calls us “blobs”. Genocide Watch sees this as stage four in the 10 stages of genocide. Stage six is the removal of rights from certain groups: “The dominant group passes emergency laws or decrees that grants them total power over the targeted group. The laws erode fundamental civil rights and liberties.” So here we are.

3) The bill is impractical, inoperable, and eye-wateringly expensive on given estimates, taking the asylum back-log into account. It will cost billions to bring a new detention and deportation infrastructure into being at scale. The bill makes provision for the Home Secretary to detain indefinitely, but this appears to be contradicted by other provisions in the bill. There will also be legal questions to be asked in Scots Law in this regard regarding habeas corpus but also the principle under New Scots that integration begins from day one of arrival for communities. This will simply not be possible if everyone who arrives is on detention ships and in former hotels and military estates.

This is not “Ukraine Accommodation” where you are free to come and go. This is a prison estate extension done by private contractors for eye-watering sums. This is in addition to the millions already paid to the French authorities to prevent embarkation.

The deterrent schemes do not work. The bill is providing an opportunity for the Government to repeat, again, the mantras which further inflame dissatisfaction and fear in key constituencies. This is irresponsible governance and risks public safety.

So, three things you can do?

Watch the language, change the language, and act to avoid repeating the same mantras which normalise language used to create bad laws or unsettle the public with ill-founded fears.

Exercise rights to protest in Scotland and the right to engage lawmakers. Writing to both MPs and Lords outlining concerns, engaging faith groups and studying the issue whilst at the same time ensuring those at risk makes room for thought.

“Evil”, says the philosopher Hannah Arendt, in her famous quotation on the banality of evil, “comes from the failure to think” (Eichmann in Jerusalem).

Engage MSPs and local councillors on this need to double down on the protection of this principle.

Examine the plans in detail and become well acquainted with the facts. The Scottish Refugee Council has the information on numbers and statistics in Scotland and the UK, as does UNHCR UK and UNHCR on overall statistics and first destinations.

Address the fear being produced by this bill, with facts and understanding. Be educated.

Alison Phipps is Unesco chair for refugee integration at the University of Glasgow