UK Home Office plans to penalise asylum seekers attempting to cross the English Channel in small boats could cost taxpayers in excess of £400m a year, a new study has found. The proposals have been widely condemned for targeting all asylum seekers trying to cross the channel in small boats, not just the traffickers facilitating these journeys.
The research, conducted by the Refugee Council, asserts that such costs would arise from the arrest and prosecution of thousands of asylum seekers under certain provisions set out in the new Nationality and Borders Bill.
The bill, if passed, would make “arriving in the UK without a valid entry clearance” a criminal offence and would carry a maximum prison sentence of 4 years. Entry clearance is the procedure whereby British missions overseas check if individuals qualify for entry into the UK under the immigration rules prior to that person entering the UK.
Currently, 60% of asylum seekers reach the UK through unauthorised routes, with the new offence applying to the majority of the 8,420 who crossed the Channel last year.
The bill will also allow the UK border force to employ “reasonable force” to detain asylum seekers, allowing them to stop, board and divert any boat they suspect to be crossing the channel illegally.
Under current legislation, only asylum seekers who entered the UK without the assistance of border authorities are open to prosecution – those who are intercepted and aided by the border force are not considered to have entered the UK illegally.
Enver Solomon, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, said: “To treat vulnerable men, women and children who have put their lives at risk to reach safety in the UK as criminals is not only a huge waste of taxpayers’ money but also a brutal, cruel and cold-hearted response by this government,”
“For generations Conservative prime ministers from Winston Churchill to Theresa May have given people fleeing war, terror and oppression a fair hearing on our soil. Global Britain must not now turn its back on these British values of fairness and compassion,”
“The majority of the public clearly believe that the UK must continue to protect our fellow human beings no matter how they arrived on our shores.”
Bambos Charalambous, Shadow Minister for Immigration, said that the projected costs are “staggering”, stating that:
“Instead of investing in making the asylum system more efficient and fairer, the government will be wasting money punishing people who need help.”
However, the Home Office has reaffirmed its position that new legislation is devised purely to target people smuggling gangs and criminals, with a spokesperson stating “We will welcome people through safe and legal routes whilst preventing abuse of the system, cracking down on illegal entry and the criminality associated with it, rather than allowing people to come here through dangerous journeys with the UK as their preferred destination.”
Speaking to the house today (19 July 2020), the Home Secretary Priti Patel is expected to say that: “The British people have always been generous to refugees. Since 2015, more than 25,000 refugees have been resettled from regions of conflict, more than any other European country.”
While this is technically correct, resettlement is only a subset of all refugees taken by a country. While England has resettled more refugees during this period – the process of transferring refugees from an asylum country, directly to a state which has agreed to admit them – countries such as Germany and France, have taken in a higher overall number of refugees over the same period. The impact of the Nationality and Borders Bill is that all those trying to enter the UK outside of resettlement schemes (which are currently only available to refugees in a small number of countries) will now be criminalised.