- 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.
Anger at immigration has played a defining role in British politics over the past decade and Sunak’s Conservatives are hoping that by taking a hard line they can rebuild their popularity while trailing the main opposition Labor Party by about 20 percentage points in opinion polls.
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The UN refugee agency said it was “extremely concerned” by proposals that would deny people asylum “no matter how real and convincing individual cases may be”.
The government said on the first page of the bill that it might not be compatible with Britain’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, meaning it could face legal challenges if it was made into law.
Sunak said he would do “whatever is necessary” to stop the small boats and was ready to face any legal challenges.
“We’re ready to fight, I wouldn’t be standing here if we weren’t – but we’re actually confident we’ll win,” he told a news conference.
Home Secretary Soella Braverman said the legislation would allow migrants to be held without bail until they are removed, and those entering Britain illegally would no longer be able to use anti-slavery laws to try to prevent deportation.
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 politicians and charities have questioned whether the latest plans will be more effective than previous attempts in the past five years to deter people from crossing.
Labor Home Affairs spokeswoman Yvette Cooper called the government’s announcement another “Groundhog Day” and said it should work with other countries to address the issue.
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 suggested to parliament that without changes in the law 100 million asylum-seekers could qualify for protection in Britain, but she did not provide supporting evidence for that figure.
Additional reporting by Andrew MacAskill, Kaylee McClellan, Sachin Ravikumar, Sarah Young, William James, Movija M and Alistair Smoot Editing by Sharon Singleton, Bernadette Baum and Mark Potter
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