A Channel crossing on June 7, 2021 | Source: Screenshot Twitter Préfecture maritime Manche et mer du Nord
@premarmanche
A Channel crossing on June 7, 2021 | Source: Screenshot Twitter Préfecture maritime Manche et mer du Nord @premarmanche

The UK government is set to introduce new laws which will enable it to send asylum seekers abroad to have their claims dealt with offshore. Critics have called the proposal "cruel" and "inhumane".

The British Home Secretary, Priti Patel, will introduce a new Nationality and Borders Bill into Parliament next week. The new law includes plans to create a center to process asylum claims outside the UK.

According to the Times newspaper, Britain has been discussing the plan with Denmark, which passed a similar law earlier this month to process asylum seekers outside Europe. The Times reported on Sunday (June 27) that Patel was in talks with her Danish counterparts over sharing a processing center in Africa. A report in the Mirror said the prime minister’s official spokesperson had denied such talks were underway.

Initial plans for the asylum reforms were outlined in March as a response to growing numbers of migrants arriving on Britain's shores – more than 5,600 people have crossed the English Channel in small boats so far this year. At the weekend 315 people made the crossing.

'Anything that will make a difference'

Proposed locations for the UK's offshore processing centers have included Ascension Island in the South Atlantic Ocean, Gibraltar and the Isle of Man.

Denmark is said to be considering sending asylum seekers to Rwanda for processing. Two ministers from Denmark recently traveled to the central African country to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on migration. A British government source told the Times that the UK had been discussing "what the Danes are doing."

The main aim of the new law is to deport migrants who come to the UK from other European countries, such as France, the Times reports. Another government source told the paper that the prime minister and home secretary were "determined to look at anything that will make a difference on Channel crossings."

"The only way to really tackle this problem is to tackle the pull factors, which is what the ideas around offshore processing and the presumption that if you cross illegally then your asylum applications are going to be treated less favourably than legal routes are about," the source continued.

Migrants rescued in the English Channel by British authorities (archive) | Photo: Picture alliance
Migrants rescued in the English Channel by British authorities (archive) | Photo: Picture alliance

Opposition

The plans have faced strong opposition from non-government and humanitarian organizations. The head of the Refugee Council in the UK, Enver Solomon, described offshore processing as "an act of cruel and brutal hostility towards vulnerable people."


"Priti Patel says we’re going to start sending scared and desperate refugees to offshore camps where they’ll be outside of the reach of the UK’s human rights protections," the writer and rights activist Femi Oluwole tweeted. "No, Just no. This doesn’t happen."

Liberty, a justice and human rights organization, said the plans would put people at "even greater risk of human rights abuses."

"Attacks on rights always start with the most marginalized and the government’s immigration plan is no different," Liberty tweeted.

The opposition Labour Party accused the government of a lack of compassion and says it will vote against the legislation. A spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats called the proposals "appalling and inhumane," according to a report in the Mirror.

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, described the plan as "burden-shifting." The Times quoted UNHCR spokersperson Matthew Saltmarsh as saying on BBC radio that the international refugee support system depended on cooperation. A government source responded telling the Times that critics had failed to "come up with plans of their own."

 

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