Humanists UK warns Illegal Migration Bill places non-religious asylum seekers at risk

19 April, 2023

Humanists UK has responded to the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ inquiry on the Illegal Migration Bill warning that it will place non-religious asylum seekers at risk and raised wider human rights concerns about the Bill. If it becomes law, the Illegal Migration Bill will see anyone arriving in the UK through irregular means barred from claiming asylum, seem them detained, and see them possibly deported.

In its submission, Humanists UK expressed concerns that 10 of the 57 so-called ‘safe’ countries that asylum seekers may be deported to in the Bill have prison sentences for blasphemy and apostasy, according to Humanists International’s Freedom of Thought report. In Nigeria, one of the ‘safe’ countries, blasphemy can carry the death penalty. The President of the Nigerian Humanist Society, Mubarak Bala, is currently serving a 24-year jail sentence for blasphemy.

Humanists UK also raised concerns about the mechanisms available to asylum seekers to challenge being deported. Aside from if an error was made, asylum seekers would need to rapidly submit a ‘serious harm suspensive claim’ which would need to provide compelling evidence that they would face a real risk of ‘serious and irreversible harm’ if they were deported. Humanists UK is concerned both about the timescales available to do this, the high level threshold of evidence required to meet this criteria, and about a lack of safeguards for those who would require translation and/or legal assistance or other support due to physical or mental health needs to do so.

Humanists UK told the Committee that non-religious asylum seekers already face multiple barriers when making their asylum application. This is because the country information used by the Home Office to determine asylum decisions frequently overlooks the treatment of the non-religious in these countries. This is due to the difficulties in evidencing non-religious belief, especially in places where it is too dangerous to openly be non-religious, and due to issues with translators who may, for example, not wish to translate valid criticisms of religious beliefs.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented:

‘We welcome the Joint Committee on Human Rights holding an inquiry on the Illegal Migration Bill. It’s vital that Parliament has time to properly scrutinise and consider the impacts of the Bill, especially given the speed with which it is being rushed through Parliament.

‘We remain deeply alarmed by the Bill, its impact on the non-religious, and its wider disregard of human rights laws which will hurt the world’s most vulnerable people. The UK Government must uphold its duty to respect and maintain its human rights obligations and we will continue campaigning to protect these rights for us all.’


For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at or phone 020 7324 3072 or 020 3675 0959.

Read the Illegal Migration Bill.

Read the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ inquiry. Note: we are unable to publish our submission until the Committee publishes our response as evidence.

Read the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants’ article, ‘What would a safe, accessible, effective asylum system look like?

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.