Priti Patel says charities who criticised her tough new immigration rules should 'think carefully about their language'

Video report by ITV News Correspondent Dan Rivers

Priti Patel has hit back at charities who branded her tougher new immigration rules as unfair and inhumane, claiming they should "think carefully about their language".

Charities including the British Red Cross have criticised the Home Secretary's plan to crack down on people entering the UK "illegally" in what is claimed to be biggest overhaul of the country's asylum system in decades.

They say the proposals, which will strip individuals of entitlements if they enter the UK on "illegal routes", judges asylum claimants on how they arrived rather than merit.

Mike Adamson, chief executive of the British Red Cross, branded the changes “inhumane”, adding: “We should not judge how worthy someone is of asylum by how they arrived here.

“The proposals effectively create an unfair two-tiered system, whereby someone’s case and the support they receive is judged on how they entered the country and not on their need for protection. This is inhumane.”

Ms Patel said comments such as these were not "acceptable", adding: "The status quo is not an option when people are dying."

She added: "People are being smuggled in the back of lorries, people are being put in small boats and lives are being put at risk.

"So I think many of those organisations should think carefully about our proposals and also the type of language they themselves use because we want to save lives and we want to work with partnership organisations in developing safe and legal routes.

"That is not just the right thing to do that is a responsible thing to do as a country that welcomes refugees fleeing persecution."

Ms Patel, who set out the full detail of the proposals in the Commons on Wednesday afternoon, added: "We want to absolutely crack down on people smuggling, save lives but create safe and legal routes for people who, quite frankly, don’t have the means to pay money to people smugglers and come through routes illegally."

The Home Office said "fairness" and a genuine need for refuge are at the heart of the proposals, the department said, as well as including measures to tackle people smugglers and “remove more easily from the UK those with no right to be there”.

But when asked by ITV News what country those claiming to seek asylum would be deported to, Ms Patel was unclear."We will work with third countries," she said. "And also many of the safe countries that many individuals who have come to the UK illegally [from] and then sought to claim asylum.

"Those countries that they have travelled from are safe countries, they are not war zones – so France, Italy, Germany - these are countries where people smugglers are bringing people through illegally."

She said countries all over the world had a "collective responsibility" to take "responsible action to stop the trafficking of people".

  • Watch ITV News Political Correspondent Shehab Khan's analysis on the new immigration proposals:

Last year, about 8,500 people arrived in the UK by crossing the Channel in small boats and the majority claimed asylum, the Home Office said.

Around 800 are estimated to have made the crossing so far this year.

Access to benefits and family reunion rights could be limited while the appeals and judicial process will be reformed to “speed up” removals for those whose claims are refused.

The Government promises to continue to welcome refugees and to help them build a life in the UK, with the Home Secretary having the ability to offer protection to vulnerable people in “immediate danger and at risk in their home country”.

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought to Dover by Border Force officers following a small boat incident in the Channel. Credit: PA

But the measures, anticipated to be brought forward as part of a Sovereign Borders Bill, will also make it “much harder for people to be granted refugee status based on unsubstantiated claims” and include “rigorous age assessments” to stop adult migrants pretending to be children.

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, accused the Government of “seeking to unjustly differentiate between the deserving and undeserving refugee by choosing to provide protection for those fleeing war and terror based on how they travel to the UK” and claimed the plans could undermine the country’s traditions of providing protection for people “regardless of how they have managed to find their way to our shores”.

Kolbassia Haoussou, of Freedom from Torture, warned the proposals could see most of the people the charity helps become “criminalised”, adding: “These unreal proposals make it clear that this Government isn’t serious about improving lives and creating a fair asylum system.”

But the Home Secretary said that asylum seekers were not being "punished" by the new rules.

"On the contrary," she said. "This new immigration plan is absolutely about saving lives and stopping people from being put in the hands of criminal gangs and people smugglers and having their life put at risk.

"What I am proposing is that we create new safe and legal routes for those individuals who are absolutely fleeing persecution from some of the most dangerous of the world."

Earlier, she said: “If people arrive illegally, they will no longer have the same entitlements as those who arrive legally, and it will be harder for them to stay.

“If, like over 60% of illegal arrivals, they have travelled through a safe country like France to get here, they will not have immediate entry into the asylum system – which is what happens today.

“And we will stop the most unscrupulous abusing the system by posing as children, by introducing tougher, more accurate age assessments.

“Profiteering from illegal migration to Britain will no longer be worth the risk, with new maximum life sentences for people smugglers.

“I make no apology for these actions being firm, but as they will also save lives and target people smugglers, they are also undeniably fair.”

Boats thought to have been used by migrants to cross the Channel. Credit: PA

Tougher laws will be introduced to “withhold protection and remove dangerous criminals, even when they improperly claim to be victims of modern slavery”, the Home Office added.

Life sentences will be brought in for people smugglers, harsher offences will be imposed on people trying to enter the country illegally and foreign criminals who breach deportation orders and return to the UK could be jailed for up to five years instead of the current six months.

A new “one-stop” legal process is also proposed, so asylum, human rights claims and any other protection matters are all made and considered together ahead of appeal hearings.

The Home Office said: “For the first time, whether people enter the UK legally or illegally will have an impact on how their asylum claim progresses, and on their status in the UK if that claim is successful.

“We will make every effort to remove those who enter the UK illegally having travelled through a safe country in which they could and should have claimed asylum.”

Labour shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said he feared the changes would not curtail the number of people making “dangerous crossings” to reach Britain.

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds Credit: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

“Measures are clearly needed to speed up processes and stop criminal gangs profiting from dangerous crossings,” he said.

“However, we fear these plans will do next to nothing to stop people making dangerous crossings, and risk withdrawing support from desperate people, such as victims of human trafficking.”