A group of people thought to be migrants are brought into Dover, Kent, by the RNLI following a small boat incident in the Channel, picture taken on Wednesday September 2, 2020 | Photo: IMAGO
A group of people thought to be migrants are brought into Dover, Kent, by the RNLI following a small boat incident in the Channel, picture taken on Wednesday September 2, 2020 | Photo: IMAGO

The British sea rescue charity Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) remains defiant amid criticism following a rescue operation in the Channel shortly before new restrictive immigration legislation was published by the government.

The British charity Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) received a backlash last week following a news report which described the entry of their vessel into French waters to search for a boat in distress with 20 migrants on board.

RNLI said it received a huge volume of comments on social media after a British tabloid published the article on July 2. Former UKIP and Brexit party leader, Nigel Farage, said on Sunday the RNLI had become "a taxi service for illegal immigration".

On Monday the RNLI responded with a statement clarifying that its mission is to "save lives at sea . . . without judgment of how they came to be in the water." The charity added, "we want to be absolutely clear that we are incredibly proud of the humanitarian work our volunteer lifeboat crews do to rescue vulnerable people in distress."

The statement was issued on Monday evening, before the publication of the highly contentious Nationality and Borders Bill yesterday (July 6), which seeks to further restrict the asylum application process and to clamp down on clandestine Channel crossings by people seeking refuge in the UK.

On Tuesday, as the bill was introduced, 18 migrants were found in a lorry on a Dover Ferry, reported the BBC.

New Bill would penalize countries who refuse migrant returns

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel said on Monday that the legislation was being introduced because it was time to fix the "broken asylum system". While Patel often claims these policies are aimed at people smugglers and gangs, however campaigners fear that vulnerable people fleeing violence and persecution will be hit the hardest. 

The provisions of the bill include introducing a criminal offence for entering the UK without permission, a measure likely to be used against migrants arriving on small boats. Traditionally, the UK courts have interpreted the UN 1951 Refugee Convention as barring the UK criminalizing entry for people seeking asylum to enter the country.

Under the proposed legislation, the home secretary would also have the power to delay or suspend the processing of applications from countries that do no "cooperate with the UK government in relation to the removal from the United Kingdom of nationals of that country who require leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom but do not have it," the Guardian reported.

Patel has included further powers in the Nationality and Borders Bill, which allows for the home secretary to increase the fees for visa applications if countries do not cooperate. The new proposals mirror US immigration policies which penalize countries that refuse to take back undocumented migrants. The European Commission discussed similar measures to encourage third countries to take back migrants from their place of origin back in March 2021. 

The bill also proposes offshore asylum processing centers similar to the recent approach taken by the Danish government.

Rights groups condemn the new measures

The UK Refugee Council condemned the legislation dubbing it the "anti-refugee bill" and claiming the proposals will put vulnerable people further at risk.

Amnesty International UK described the Bill as "legislative vandalism" that "fatally undermines" the right to asylum in the UK.

Over 250 organizations – including the Refugee Council, the British Red Cross, Freedom from Torture, Refugee Action and Asylum Matters – have formed a coalition called Together with Refugees to call for a more humane approach to people seeking asylum in the UK.


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