New small boats law could prevent arrivals 'from claiming asylum while in the UK'

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dungeness, Kent, after being rescued by the RNLI. Credit: PA

New powers to help fulfil the government's pledge to crack down on small boats crossings in the Channel are expected to be announced next week. The legislation, promised as part of efforts to tackle illegal migration, is understood to likely be unveiled next week by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Suella Braverman. First reported by the Times, the legislation is expected to make asylum claims inadmissible from those who travel to the UK on small boats. It would see a duty placed on the home secretary to remove “as soon as reasonably practicable” anyone who arrives on a small boat to Rwanda or a “safe third country”. Arrivals will also be prevented from claiming asylum while in the UK, with plans also to ban them from returning once removed.

Rishi Sunak speaks to a Border Force official during a visit to a central London security hub. Credit: PA

The PM has made “stopping the boats” one of his five priorities, while Ms Braverman has repeatedly promised to take a hard line on illegal migration and Channel crossings. But the government’s plans have also been criticised by campaigners, with concerns too about whether some of the policies are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

In April last year, then-home secretary Priti Patel signed an agreement with Rwanda for it to receive migrants deemed by the UK to have arrived “illegally”, and therefore inadmissible under new immigration rules.

The Rwanda scheme went on to become mired in legal challenges, and so far no flights carrying migrants to the Rwandan capital Kigali have departed.

Opponents of the plans argue that the country is not a safe destination for asylum seekers and that it breaks human rights laws.

The latest Home Office figures show 2,950 migrants have crossed the Channel already this year. Mr Sunak has been under considerable pressure from his own backbenches to tackle illegal migration. Downing Street has said that the legislation will come in due course.

Christina Marriott, executive director of strategy at the Red Cross, called the plans “extremely concerning”. “The Home Office knows from its own research that this will also do little to prevent people risking their lives to seek safety. “Again and again, we hear from people that they have no prior knowledge of the UK’s asylum system, so making it harsher is not an effective strategy,” she said. Sonya Sceats, chief executive at Freedom from Torture, meanwhile, called the proposals “vindictive and dysfunctional”.

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