Following criticism from human rights activists, the British government on Tuesday unveiled extreme proposals to prevent migrants from crossing the Channel in small boats.
The plan’s prime minister, Rishi Sunak, promised to “take back control of our borders once and for all,” echoing a popular promise from campaigners who supported Britain’s Brexit divorce from the European Union (EU).
He wrote in The Sun newspaper that the new law would “send a clear signal that if you come to this country illegally, you will be swiftly removed” before meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday.
Anyone who attempts the hazardous journey from France and is subsequently deported would be barred from entering the UK and claiming British citizenship under the proposed law.
The proposed legislation would give Home Secretary Suella Braverman a new mandate to deport illegal immigrants, superseding any protections they might have under existing UK or European human rights law.
The interior minister wrote in the Telegraph newspaper, “No more sticking plasters or shying away from the difficult decisions,” before introducing the legislation in parliament.
“Myself and the prime minister have been working tirelessly to ensure we have a bill that works — we’ve pushed the boundaries of international law to solve this crisis,” Braverman said.
Under a controversial partnership agreed to by London, migrants’ legal redress would be severely limited and they would be sent back to their home country or on to a “safe” destination like Rwanda.
The topic of illegal migrants is playing badly with voters and the right-wing press, especially when they have crossed so-called “safe” countries in Europe to reach Britain, which has put Sunak’s Conservative government further behind in the polls.
Rights organizations and political opponents argue that the plan is unrealistic and unfairly targets helpless refugees.
According to British Red Cross executive director of strategy Christina Marriott, the UK would be in violation of its duties under international asylum conventions.
“We wonder if you are fleeing persecution or war, if you are running from Afghanistan or Syria and are in fear of your life, how are you going to be able to claim asylum in the UK?” she said to Sky News.
She argued that people should be sent back to their home countries if they do not have a legitimate asylum claim.
But for that, we need a swift and just asylum system. And at the moment, that’s precisely what we lack.
Since 2018, the number of migrants arriving in small boats to the southeast coast of England has increased annually by 60%, to over 45,000.
Over 160,000 people are waiting for their asylum claims to be processed, and nearly 3,000 have arrived so far this year, often requiring taxpayer-funded stays in luxury hotels.
Under the proposed changes, illegal immigrants would be relocated to abandoned military bases, and the number of annual asylum applications would be capped at a level determined by law makers.
Multiple tragedies in recent years, including one in which at least 27 people perished when their dinghy deflated in November 2021, have highlighted the danger of the crossings.
The government has spent a lot of time and effort over the years trying to resolve this problem.
It hoped that threatening asylum seekers with a one-way ticket to Rwanda, where they would be required to stay if granted protection, would prevent them from making the dangerous journey across the English Channel.
However, the independent European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) intervened at the last minute to halt the plan.
The British High Court agreed, but the case is still bogged down in the appeals process. So far, there have been no flight departures for Rwanda.
Following what Braverman termed a “opaque” ruling on Rwanda, reports surfaced on Tuesday claiming the government could withdraw from the ECHR if the Strasbourg-based court again intervenes in its latest legislation.
She added that UK officials were in discussion with the ECHR, but that the government was unable to say whether or not its “robust and novel” plan complies with Britain’s own Human Rights Act.
However, Braverman insisted, “I am confident that this bill is compatible with international obligations.”
Locals in Dover, site of weekend protests against migrants and their counter-protesters, seemed uniformly skeptical of the proposed legislation.
Those conditions, according to 43-year-old Matthew Stevens’ prediction, “won’t happen.”
He was referring to the criminal gangs that oversee the illegal cross-Channel operations and their “too many people are profiting for it to stop” mindset.