Britain announces controversial attempt to stop migrants crossing the English Channel

LONDON: The UK government is set to unveil radical plans on Tuesday to stop migrants crossing the English Channel illegally on small boats, acknowledging it is stretching international law amid an outcry from rights activists.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the plan would “regain control of our borders once and for all” – reiterating a popular promise from campaigners like him who supported Britain’s Brexit split from the European Union.

“This new law will send a clear signal that if you enter this country illegally you will be deported quickly,” he wrote in The Sun newspaper ahead of a summit with French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday.

Under the draft law, anyone deported from France after making the perilous journey would be banned from re-entering the UK and ever claiming British citizenship.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman would be given a new statutory duty to deport illegal migrants, trumping her other rights under UK and European human rights law.

“No more sticking band-aids or shying away from difficult decisions,” the Home Secretary wrote in the Telegraph newspaper before introducing the law to Parliament later on Tuesday.

“Myself and the Prime Minister have worked tirelessly to ensure we have a working bill – we have pushed the boundaries of international law to resolve this crisis,” Braverman added.

Migrants would be sent back to their home country or to a ‘safe’ destination like Rwanda under a hotly contested partnership to which the UK has agreed, and their rights to remedies would be drastically curtailed.

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Sunak’s Conservative government is behind in the polls and the migrant issue is playing poorly with voters and the right-wing press, especially when they have crossed ‘safe’ countries in Europe to reach the UK.

But rights groups and opposition parties say the plan is unworkable and unfairly scapegoating vulnerable refugees.

Christina Marriott, executive director for strategy at the British Red Cross, said Britain was failing to meet its obligations under international asylum conventions.

“We wonder if you are fleeing persecution or war, if you are fleeing Afghanistan or Syria and fear for your life, how can you apply for asylum in the UK?” she told Sky News.

“If they don’t have a valid application for asylum, we support returning people to countries,” she said.

“But what we need for this is a really fair and fast asylum system. And we don’t have that at the moment.”

More than 45,000 migrants arrived on small boats on the coasts of south-east England last year – an annual increase of 60 per cent on a route that has been growing in popularity every year since 2018.

Nearly 3,000 have arrived so far this year, often ending up in expensive hotels at taxpayer expense.

The new plan would transfer illegal migrants to disused military barracks and limit annual asylum applications to a level set by Parliament.

The dangerous nature of the crossings has been underscored by several tragedies in recent years, including in November 2021 when at least 27 people died when their dinghy was deflated.

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The government has been trying for years to get the issue under control.

She had hoped that the threat of a one-way ticket to Rwanda, where migrants would stay if granted asylum, would prevent crossing the Channel.

But the plan was blocked at the last minute by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which is separate from the EU.

It was then upheld by the UK High Court but remains mired in appeals and no flights to Rwanda have yet taken place.

According to reports Tuesday, the government could withdraw from the ECHR if the Strasbourg-based court again intervenes in its latest legislation, although Sunak’s spokesman has denied it is in the works.

However, it has yet to be confirmed to which so-called “safe third countries” Channel migrants will be deported, other than Rwanda.

In Dover, the scene of anti-migrant protests and counter-demonstrations over the weekend, locals were uniformly skeptical of the bill.

Matthew Stevens, 43, predicted his provisions “won’t come to pass”.

“Too many people are benefiting from it for it to stop,” he said of the criminal gangs that run illegal operations across the canal. -AFP Britain announces controversial attempt to stop migrants crossing the English Channel

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