Border Force staff have joined the legal fight to stop Priti Patel from “pushing back” migrant boats in the Channel, branding the government's plan “cruel and inhumane”.
Their union, PCS, and charity Care4Calais are demanding the Home Office publish details of the policy and the legal basis for it.
Following the deaths of 27 people as they tried to cross the Channel on a dinghy this week, pressure has mounted on the government to reverse its plan to make Border Force staff prevent boats from reaching the UK, which experts have warned would put migrants' lives at greater risk.
Protesters gathered in London on Saturday to call for safe passages across the channel.
Charities Channel Rescue and Freedom from Torture have launched legal challenges against the government's plan, along with Care4Calais and the PCS.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of PCS, said: “The Pushback policy being pursued by the Home Secretary is unlawful, unworkable and above all morally reprehensible.
“Our border force members are aghast at the thought they will be forced to implement such a cruel and inhumane policy.
“Migrants who are trying to reach this country should be allowed to so via safe routes so that their claims can be assessed here.“
The Home Office has until Monday to respond before the PCS considers further legal steps.
Mr Serwotka said the union would pursue all legal routes, including a judicial review, if the government did not abandon its ”appalling approach“.
He said Border Force workers would not rule out industrial action and could disrupt the implementation of the policy if the Home Secretary refuses to back down.
The Independent has approached the Home Office for comment.
Clare Moseley, founder of Care4Calais said: “We are incredibly proud to be joined in this action by PCS.
”Not only will this challenge represent the interest of desperate people forced to risk their lives, it will also represent those who may well be forced to implement it.”
A spokesperson for Care4Calais said charity workers were “devastated” when they heard of the deaths on Wednesday.
The latest deaths come amid a sharp increase in Channel crossings this year. More than 25,700 people have made the dangerous journey to the UK so far in 2021, more than three times the number in 2020.
Volunteers from Care4Calais were among 150 people who gathered near Downing Street on Saturday to call for safe passages across the channel.
The protest, organised by Stand Up To Racism, heard several speeches, including from members of religious groups, volunteer organisations directly involved in helping migrants, and others.
Lara Bishop, from Care4Calais, was among those to give a speech.
Afterwards she said: “”No-one should have to die on our border. We are a first-world nation. We are the sixth biggest economy in the world but we only take 1 per cent of refugees.”
She added: “I think the British and the French governments need to remember humanity.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are seeing an unacceptable rise in dangerous Channel crossings and as part of our ongoing operational response, we continue our work to safely prevent such illegal crossings.
“The health, safety and wellbeing of our officers is paramount when undertaking their operational duties, which is why we provide extensive training and ensure all operational procedures comply and are delivered in accordance with domestic and international law.
“Last summer we held a formal consultation on new maritime tactics with the unions. We continue to work closely with all the trade unions and welcome their ongoing feedback.”
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