This week, the Government introduced a new bill to Parliament that aims to stop people from crossing the Channel in small boats, by implementing harsh and punitive policies that will come at a huge cost.
Travelling across the Channel in a small boat is extremely dangerous, and nobody should have to make such a perilous crossing to find safety in the UK. However, the solution is not to create further misery to traumatised people by detaining them and treating them as criminals.
The full implications of this new legislation are yet to be fully understood, but below we have outlined what we know so far and some key issues that must be addressed.
What is the Government’s new asylum bill?
The bill sets out a plan that will mean that anyone who arrives on a small boat will have their asylum claim deemed “inadmissible” – the Home Office won’t even consider someone’s claim. They will be immediately detained for 28 days and then removed either to their own country or a “safe third country” if that’s not possible.
The bill was given its first reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday, and is being fast-tracked through Parliament, meaning it will be more difficult for MPs to oppose it or table amendments.
Why has the bill been created?
This new legislation has been introduced in the wake of the Prime Minister committing to ending small boat crossings. Last year 45,755 men, women and children crossed the Channel in small boats, and nearly 3,000 people have already made the crossing this year. Our analysis shows that two thirds of those who made the crossing last year would be granted refugee status.
This is a highly dangerous journey that is only made by people because they have no other option. Whilst we should all want to put an end to people putting their lives in danger by making this crossing, the new bill is not the way to do this. It criminalises refugees instead of giving them access to safe routes into the UK.
Why won’t it work?
It is unlikely that these new policies will work as an effective deterrent against further Channel crossings. Traumatised people who are fleeing conflict and persecution will understandably take desperate measures to reach safety.
There is no clarity about where the tens of thousands of people who cross the channel will be sent. Half of the people who crossed the channel last year came from one of just five countries – Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iran, Sudan and Syria. It’s not going to be possible to return those people to their own country – the UK Government isn’t about to start returning Afghans to Afghanistan under Taliban rule, for example – so where will they go?
The policy of making the asylum claim of anyone who arrives on a small boat “inadmissible” is also likely to leave many people stuck in limbo. The Home Office has tried to reject asylum claims 12,286 times before, but they have only succeeded in establishing inadmissibility 83 times. If 65,000 people cross the Channel on small boats this year (as the Home Office has predicted), based on their previous success rate only 455 people would be removed. This would leave 64,545 people unable to be removed, have their claims processed, work or receive support. It is unclear what will happen to these people, and there is a risk of them being left homeless and destitute.
The Government will need to hugely increase the UK’s current detention capacity in order to detain that number of people. If this does happen, it will come at a huge cost – it costs about £120 to detain someone for one day so detaining 65,000 people for 28 days would cost £219 million a year, and that’s before the additional costs of building more detention centres.
Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, has said:
“The government’s new legislation ignores the fundamental point that most of the people in small boats are men, women and children escaping terror and bloodshed from countries including Afghanistan, Iran and Syria.
“The plans won’t stop the crossings but will simply leave traumatised people locked up in a state of misery being treated as criminals and suspected terrorists without a fair hearing on our soil.
“This is not the British way of doing things. It is an approach more akin to authoritarian nations that walk away from international human rights treaties, such as Russia and Belarus, and is no way to treat those who have lost everything through no fault of their own.
“We need an approach that replaces the chaos and cost of what we have now and focuses on compassion and competence, creating safe and orderly routes for refugees to reach the UK, such as refugee visas, and always give people a fair hearing so their rights are respected.”