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Campaigners brand Bill to curb Channel crossings ‘unethical and impractical’

Charities and human rights organisations have condemned the Government proposals.

Aine Fox
Tuesday 07 March 2023 17:05 GMT
The Refugee Council said the plan is simply ‘not the British way of doing things’ (Gareth Fuller/PA)
The Refugee Council said the plan is simply ‘not the British way of doing things’ (Gareth Fuller/PA) (PA Wire)

Ministers have been accused of setting an “utterly terrible example” to other countries with new migration proposals which campaigners said will see vulnerable people treated as criminals and suspected terrorists.

The Government’s approach, outlined by Home Secretary Suella Braverman in Parliament on Tuesday, has been widely condemned by charities and human rights organisations, one of which branded it “unethical and impractical”.

The plan is simply “not the British way of doing things” according to the Refugee Council.

We need an approach that replaces the chaos and cost of what we have now and focuses on compassion and competence

Enver Solomon, Refugee Council

Its chief executive Enver Solomon suggested the plans are “more akin to authoritarian nations” such as Russia and insisted the proposals will not stop desperate people crossing in small boats but will instead leave “traumatised people locked up in a state of misery being treated as criminals and suspected terrorists without a fair hearing on our soil”.

He said the new legislation “ignores the fundamental point that most of the people in small boats are men, women and children escaping terror and bloodshed from countries including Afghanistan, Iran and Syria”.

He added: “It is an approach more akin to authoritarian nations that walk away from international human rights treaties, such as Russia and Belarus, and is no way to treat those who have lost everything through no fault of their own.

“We need an approach that replaces the chaos and cost of what we have now and focuses on compassion and competence, creating safe and orderly routes for refugees to reach the UK, such as refugee visas, and always give people a fair hearing so their rights are respected.”

Amnesty International UK decried the plan – which it described as an attempt to disqualify people’s asylum claims en masse regardless of the strength of their case – as containing nothing “fair, humane or even practical” and described it as a “shocking new low”.

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, said: “It’s frankly chilling to see ministers trying to remove human rights protections for groups of people whom they’ve chosen to scapegoat for their own failures.

People fleeing persecution and conflict will be irreparably harmed by these proposals, while the UK is setting an utterly terrible example to other countries around the world.”

Comparing it to the Government’s efforts to send migrants to Rwanda, it branded the plan a “cynical attempt to dodge basic moral and legal responsibilities” and accused the Government of “callously using vulnerable people for its own political ends”.

Amnesty echoed the Refugee Council in a call for accessible schemes “so people seeking asylum do not have to rely on people smugglers and dangerous journeys”.

The Bill will change nothing unless there is a deal done with France on crossings, according to the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).

The Government can pass law after law, but without a deal with France and new safe and legal routes for people seeking asylum, people will continue to be forced to make the perilous journey across the Channel

Marley Morris, IPPR

Marley Morris, the think tank’s associate director for migration, trade and communities, said: “This Bill is both unethical and impractical. As with last year’s Nationality and Border Act, this Bill will simply add to the distress of Afghans, Syrians, Iranians and others seeking asylum in the UK, without deterring people from making the journey.

“The Government can pass law after law, but without a deal with France and new safe and legal routes for people seeking asylum, people will continue to be forced to make the perilous journey across the Channel.”

The Tony Blair Institute’s Harvey Redgrave claimed the new Bill is “a soundbite dressed up as a solution and will ultimately join the Rwanda policy on the scrapheap”.

He added: “As TBI has previously said, if the Government is serious about preventing illegal migration then they should focus on clearing the backlog, increasing the number of returns, introducing a system of digital identity verification and opening up safe and viable routes for asylum claims.”

Christian Action Research and Education (CARE) warned that it has serious concerns the proposals “will do nothing to help victims of human trafficking being brought to our shores, or those already here who are currently being exploited”.

The organisation’s trafficking policy expert Rebecca Stevenson said: “In fact, the approach signalled by the Government could undermine efforts to identify victims and ensure that justice is served.

“This legislation could create a closed loop that fuels human trafficking. People being exploited already face huge barriers to coming forward. They will find it even more difficult to do so when seeking help could see them immediately deported. Many will conclude it’s better not to speak out at all.”

However, the think tank Migration Watch UK, which has long argued the UK’s level of immigration is neither sustainable nor well managed, welcomed the Bill and urged MPs and peers not to “neuter” the legislation as it comes before Parliament.

Alp Mehmet, chairman of the campaign group, said: “As it stands, the small boats Bill has many of the right ingredients to solve the Channel crisis.

“However, it is vital that it is not neutered as it makes its way through Parliament. Enshrining in statute a requirement to detain and remove illegal arrivals is a vital first step.

“Furthermore, establishing the precedent that illegal entrants will be unable to claim asylum or other forms of refuge will serve as a powerful deterrent.

“It is equally important, of course, to plug the huge gaps created by the Human Rights and Modern Slavery Acts. These are all essential elements if the tide of illegal boat arrivals is to be stemmed.”

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