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Plans to deny asylum to people arriving by boat won’t work and may not be legal

Experts say that the government’s plans to deem the asylum claim of anyone who arrives on a small boat “inadmissible” may not be legal.

09/03/23

Plans to deny asylum to people arriving by boat won’t work and may not be legal

Earlier this week, the government introduced a new Illegal Migration Bill to Parliament that aims to stop people from crossing the Channel in small boats by preventing those arriving from later claiming asylum.

The Bill was given its first reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday, but it is being fast-tracked through Parliament making it difficult for MPs to scrutinise and make amendments.

The government plans to create a scheme whereby anyone arriving “illegally” in the UK will be removed to their home country or a safe third country. People will therefore be removed if they arrive through an illegal route (as determined by the Government), they enter or arrive in the UK on or after 7th March 2023, they did not come directly from the country they are fleeing and they require leave to enter or remain but do not have it.

Last year, more than 45,000 men, women and children crossed the Channel in small boats, and nearly 3,000 people have already made the crossing this year. Analysis from the Refugee Council shows that at least two thirds of those who made the crossing last year would be granted refugee status.

Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council said the plans won’t work: “The plans won’t stop the crossings but will simply leave traumatised people locked up in a state of misery being treated as criminals and suspected terrorists without a fair hearing on our soil."

“This is a highly dangerous journey that is only made by people because they have no other option. Whilst we should all want to put an end to people putting their lives in danger by making this crossing, the new bill is not the way to do this. It criminalises refugees instead of giving them access to safe routes into the UK,” the Refugee Council said in a statement on its website.

The charity went onto explain that the plans will not work as an effective deterrent against further Channel crossings because traumatised people who are fleeing conflict and persecution will take desperate measures to reach safety. It added that there is also currently no clarity about where the tens of thousands of people who cross the channel will be sent.

“Half of the people who crossed the channel last year came from one of just five countries – Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iran, Sudan and Syria. It’s not going to be possible to return those people to their own country – the UK Government isn’t about to start returning Afghans to Afghanistan under Taliban rule, for example – so where will they go?”

“The policy of making the asylum claim of anyone who arrives on a small boat “inadmissible” is also likely to leave many people stuck in limbo. The Home Office has tried to reject asylum claims 12,286 times before, but they have only succeeded in establishing inadmissibility 83 times. If 65,000 people cross the Channel on small boats this year (as the Home Office has predicted), based on their previous success rate only 455 people would be removed. This would leave 64,545 people unable to be removed, have their claims processed, work or receive support. It is unclear what will happen to these people, and there is a risk of them being left homeless and destitute.”

Meanwhile, The Law Society said that the Bill in its current form may not be legal due to its incompatibility with human rights law and the lack of a public consultation.

“We are concerned that there has been no public consultation, including with lawyers, to ensure the bill is workable, provides due process for those claiming asylum or is compliant with international law,” the Society’s President Lubna Shuja said.

“The government has already conceded the bill may not comply with international human rights law (European Convention on Human Rights) and questions remain about compatibility with the UN Refugee Convention,” Ms Shuja added.

“The rule of law is undermined if the UK Government takes the view that laws – international or domestic – can be broken. If a government breaks laws, it breaks trust with its own citizens and with international partners.

“We will be carefully combing the detail of this bill to determine whether it will lead to the Home Office delivering a fair and workable process, and seeking clarity from the government on whether it is compatible with the UK’s international obligations.”

The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) also said that it will be opposing the Bill and “urging for a fairer, quicker and more humane asylum process which reflects basic human rights.”

“BASW UK firmly believes that any person arriving in the UK seeking asylum, no matter the route they took to get here, should have a fair hearing on UK soil. Under international law, there is no ‘illegal route’ to enter the UK. There are unsafe routes, and the Government could make it easier to claim asylum in the UK from another country rather than force people to risk their lives to travel here.

“Social workers work with unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who are in the care of local authorities. This legislation would create a separation between UASC and children born in the UK which contravenes basic principles of human rights. We also fear that knowing they will be deported at 18, UASC will be more likely to go missing from care and be at risk of abuse by traffickers.

“The UK Government continues to create far-fetched, unworkable and discriminatory practices that are in breach of human rights instead of creating other ways for people to claim asylum in the UK without having to risk their lives to get here. These political narratives also create hostility and indirectly encourage violence and aggression against asylum-seekers and refugees.”

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