Social Justice

Priti Patel’s migrant boat plans are ‘cruel and destined to fail’

Asylum campaigners have hit out at Priti Patel's "almost certainly unlawful" plans to turn migrant boats around in the English Channel

Priti Patel's Nationality and Borders Bill could allow people to be stripped of their British citizenship without notice. Image: Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street

Plans from Priti Patel to turn boats of desperate migrants around in the Channel and send them back to French waters are “cruel and destined to fail”, human rights experts have said.

The government is reportedly training Border Force in “turn-around” tactics, which would mean forcing small boats back before they reach British shores – through the world’s busiest shipping lane – to be dealt with by French authorities instead.

The plan is “senseless, dangerous and almost certainly unlawful,” said Steve Valdez-Symonds, refugee and migrant rights director for Amnesty International UK.

“Intercepting vessels in the Channel is incredibly high-risk,” he added. “To push people back will endanger their lives, which is totally at odds with the legal duty of rescue at sea.”

The prime minister’s spokesperson did not confirm the plans but said: “We continue to evaluate and test a range of safe and legal options to find ways of stopping small boats making this dangerous and unnecessary journey.”

Gerald Darmanin, interior minister for France, accused Home Secretary Priti Patel of “financial blackmail” and said French officials would not accept any UK actions which breach maritime law.

The home secretary reportedly told MPs she would refuse to hand over millions of pounds previously promised to France to increase patrols in the Channel if the country did not start intercepting a greater number of migrants before they reached the UK.

Valdez-Symonds pushed back against Downing Street’s suggestion that journeys made by migrants across the channel are “unnecessary”.

“People have every right to seek asylum in the UK,” he said. “They only make dangerous journeys and rely on smugglers because there are no safe alternatives made available to them.”

Many people with family or other clear connections to the UK currently have no means of seeking asylum in the country “without relying on frightening journeys like these,” he added.

“Coming on top of draconian plans to criminalise refugees arriving in the UK, this is a government playing politics with people’s lives in the Channel. 

“It is cruel and destined to fail.”

The upcoming Nationality and Borders Bill seeks to make arriving in the UK without permission to do so, or without a valid visa, punishable by up to four years in prison.

Patel should end “this falsely tough posturing” and engage with French authorities over sharing responsibility for refugees searching for safety from danger or prejudice, Valdez-Symonds said.

France receives three times as many people seeking asylum as the UK, Valdez-Symonds added.

That Priti Patel is “even considering these dangerous proposals shows how badly she has lost control of this situation,” said Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labour’s shadow home secretary.

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