LONDON: The United Kingdom government has proposed a contentious new law that would allow authorities to deport people arriving on its shores via small boats across the English Channel that divides the island from France.
Several charities and human rights groups have criticized the plan known as the Illegal Migration Bill saying it criminalizes the efforts of thousands of genuine refugees.
The announcement this week comes after the UK’s conservative government made stopping boat arrivals a top priority. Last year, the government made it a criminal offence for individuals to arrive in the UK without a visa or special permission.
More than 45,000 people entered by crossing the channel in 2022, according to government figures, a jump of more than 17,000 from the previous year’s record.
This year, nearly 3,000 people have made the dangerous crossing that varies in width from 240km (150 miles) at its widest to 34km (21 miles) at its narrowest.
In a summit held in Paris last Friday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron signed a deal to stop cross-channel migration, with London saying it will give France $576m over the next three years to help stop the boats.
‘New cruel bill’
Anyone who arrives on the UK’s shores illegally having passed through a “safe” country will be legally required to be removed. Under the proposed act, more than 20 countries are considered “safe” for refugees to be deported to.
“Whether these countries will accept returned refugees is another matter. As far as I am aware there is no agreement or arrangement with any of above countries. There will also be legal challenges in the UK courts,” Abdirashid Mohamed, a solicitor at Aden and Co Solicitors, told Al Jazeera.
According to Mohamed, the bill rules out the chance of many arrivals to seek asylum simply because they have arrived on British shores by “irregular means” on boats.
If the bill is passed, the home secretary will have the power to detain and remove those arriving on boats to either their home country or a safe third country, such as Rwanda.
The law will also allow authorities to detain arrivals without bail or judicial review for up to 28 days. Those who are under 18, individuals deemed medically unfit to fly, or those at real risk of serious and irreversible harm in their home country will be exempt.
Even in these cases, the individuals will have a maximum of 45 days to remain in the UK before their appeal is exhausted. Authorities could then remove them.
“At the moment the bill does not shut the door on children asylum seekers. No doubt, should the UK government attempt to remove unaccompanied children in the future then such removal will face challenges in the UK courts,” Mohamed said.
The new bill will set an annual cap, set by politicians, on the total number of refugees and migrants the UK will settle.
“This government has spent the last few years trashing Britain’s reputation for providing sanctuary, breaking international law and demonizing refugees. This new cruel bill is an extreme step in the same failing approach,” Beth Gardiner-Smith, CEO of Safe Passage, a charity that provides legal help to refugees and asylum seekers, told media.
“We’ve seen, even just over the last year, that making refugees’ lives harder and focusing on deterrents doesn’t work.”
Home Secretary Suella Braverman failed to guarantee to parliament that the law is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. (Int’l News Desk)