Rishi Sunak's plan to stop migrant small boat crossings 'unfair and unworkable'

Plans will mean migrants who arrive on small boats are prevented from claiming asylum while in the UK

Migrants are taken to Dungeness, Kent, after being rescued from a small boat in the English Channel. PA
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The UK government's latest plan to tackle small boat crossings is “unworkable” and will leave thousands “permanently in limbo”, border force unions and refugee campaigners have said.

The new legislation, which is set to be laid out on Tuesday, is expected to make asylum claims from those who travel to the UK on small boats inadmissible, with the migrants removed to a third country and banned from returning or claiming citizenship.

Information about how the policy will be implemented are scarce, with previous efforts to tighten procedures — such as the Rwanda policy — mired in legal challenges.

But unions have warned that the plans may even accelerate illegal crossings in the short-term.

“What it actually does is fuel the service, if you like that the criminals provide because they say quick, cross now before anything changes,” Lucy Moreton, professional officer with the ISU union representing Border Force officers, told Radio 4 on Monday.

“But the plans as they have been announced really are quite confusing.

“We can’t remove anyone to Rwanda right now. It’s subject to a legal challenge. We can’t remove anyone to Europe because there are no returns agreements.

"And we lost access to the database that allows us to prove that individuals have claimed asylum in Europe, Eurodac, when we left with Brexit.

“So unless we have a safe third country that isn’t Rwanda to send people to, this just isn’t possible.”

Ms Moreton said the plan is unlikely to be a strong deterrent.

“It may deter a few, but that sort of long-term planning is not a classic part of the individuals who make this crossing," she said.

"Saying that, I don’t detract from the fact that these are individuals and every individual has their own motivation."

Based on data from those who crossed the Channel last year, two thirds would be granted asylum, leading a charity to warn that the plans are “unworkable” and “costly”.

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said the proposed legislation could effectively “shatter the UK’s long-standing commitment under the UN Convention to give people a fair hearing, regardless of the path they have taken to reach our shores”.

“They will simply add more cost and chaos to the system,” Mr Solomon said.

“The majority of the men, women and children who cross the Channel do so because they are desperate to escape war, conflict and persecution.

“The government’s flawed legislation will not stop the boats but result in tens of thousands locked up in detention at huge cost, permanently in limbo and being treated as criminals simply for seeking refuge.”

UK coastguard responds to migrant emergency in English Channel — in pictures

Wes Streeting, shadow secretary of state for health and social care, called the plans a “cynical rehash of previous failed immigration policies” that will probably never “see the light of day” in practice.

“We have got to have safe legal routes working,” Mr Streeting told Radio 4.

“If you look at the Afghan resettlement scheme, which is meant to be one of those routes, there were only 22 arrivals under pathway two last year who came via that route, compared to over 8,000 on small boats.

"And the second thing I would say is how on earth is that going to be enforced? Are we going to tattoo people’s foreheads with 'Not welcome in Britain'? It’s not going to work.”

Afghan migrant documents dangerous journey across Channel — video

Afghan migrant documents dangerous journey across Channel

Afghan migrant documents dangerous journey across Channel

Science Secretary Michelle Donelan told Sky News it was “not right for people to travel across many safe countries to get here and then choose to try to seek asylum by a legal route”.

“That’s why we are bringing forward this legislation,” Ms Donelan said.

“There are safe routes to get into this country. That is the correct process. Not to travel here on small boats across the Channel after you have gone through many safe countries.

“A lot of people on these boats are actually economic migrants, not genuine asylum cases. And as a country, we have to have robust processes in place to deal with that.”

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak spoke to Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame on Monday.

“They discussed the UK-Rwanda migration partnership and our joint efforts to break the business model of criminal people smugglers and address humanitarian issues," a Downing Street spokeswoman said.

“The leaders committed to continue working together to ensure this important partnership is delivered successfully.”

Updated: March 07, 2023, 7:07 AM