- Small boats are denied access to asylum seekers
- Charities concerned about the new government plans
- An opposition party says the new law will not address the problem
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain has detailed a new law banning entry to asylum seekers arriving in small boats across the Channel, a proposal some charities say could be impractical and criminalize the efforts of thousands of real refugees.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made stopping boat arrivals one of his five main priorities after the number of migrants arriving on England’s south coast rose to more than 45,000 last year, up 500% in the past two years.
The new legislation will mean that anyone who arrives this way will be denied asylum and deported either to their home country or to so-called safe third countries.
The charity Refugee Council said the law would leave real refugees “locked in misery” and compared the government’s approach to “authoritarian states” such as Russia that have withdrawn from international human rights treaties.
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Home Secretary Soella Braverman has suggested to parliament that without changes in the law 100 million asylum seekers could qualify for protection in Britain, but she has not provided supporting evidence for that figure.
“For the government to fail to respond to the waves of illegal immigrants violating our borders would be a betrayal of the will of the people we were elected to serve,” Braverman said.
She said the legislation would allow illegal immigrants to be held without bail, or judicial review, for the first 28 days of detention until they can be removed, and those entering the country illegally would not be able to use anti-slavery laws to try to prevent removal.
Only children, people deemed too ill to fly, or those at “real risk of serious and irreversible harm”, will be allowed to claim asylum in Britain.
Home Office figures show that less than two-thirds of those who arrive on small boats are currently granted asylum or any other form of humanitarian protection.
While the number of asylum applications in the UK is at a 20-year high of 75,000 in 2022, it is still below the EU average. Germany received more than 240,000 asylum applications last year.
Opposition parties and charities have questioned whether the latest plans will be more effective than earlier attempts in the past decade to deter people from crossing.
The opposition Labor Party’s home affairs spokeswoman Yvette Cooper said the new proposals were a “hoax” that would not stop the small boats from arriving, calling Sunak’s latest reform proposals another “Groundhog Day”.
Britain last year agreed a deal to send tens of thousands of migrants more than 4,000 miles (6,400 km) to Rwanda.
The first deportation flight was blocked by a court order of the European Court of Human Rights. Then the High Court in London ruled it legal in December, but opponents are seeking to appeal that ruling.
Braverman said she is in discussions with the European Court of Human Rights to stop the use of injunctions to prevent the deportation of migrants in the future.
She said the new law would set an annual cap on the number of refugees Britain would be able to legally settle, without providing details of how this would work.
Additional reporting by Andrew MacAskill, Kaylee McClellan, Sachin Ravikumar, Sarah Young, William James, Muviga M and Alistair Smoot; Editing by Debbie Babington, Elizabeth Piper, Sharon Singleton and Bernadette Baum
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