How is the UK stopping Channel crossings?

time:2023-06-05 15:19:24 source:Al Jazeera

The Illegal Migration Bill has been approved by MPs in the House of Commons.

The bill is part of the government's plan to tackle small boat crossings after record numbers arrived in the UK this way in 2022.

Under the Illegal Migration Bill, published at the beginning of March:

The law will apply retrospectively, with anyone arriving illegally from Tuesday 7 March at risk of deportation.

Pressure from some MPs led to changes being made to the bill, known as "amendments".

Some Conservative MPs wanted to limit how long unaccompanied migrant children could be detained. But this change was put aside after ministers pledged to work on a "new timescale" instead.

Another change requires the government to produce a report looking at the existing so-called "safe and legal" routes to the UK, and the possibility of expanding them.

One amendment gives Home Secretary Suella Braverman the power - in certain circumstances - to ignore orders from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that halt deportation flights.

Although the Bill passed through the Commons, it still has to be approved by the House of Lords, where it is expected to face further challege.

The Home Office insists there are a number of "safe and legal" routes to the UK.

However, some are only available to people from specific countries such as Afghanistan and Ukraine.

Other asylum routes only accept a limited number of refugees:

On 26 April, Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick was asked in Parliament what safe and legal routes to the UK would be available for a young person wanting to flee the conflict in Sudan.

He replied that "the best advice clearly would be for individuals to present to the UNHCR [UN Refugee Agency]. We already operate safe and legal routes with them."

But earlier that day the UNHCR issued a statement to say: "There is no mechanism through which refugees can approach UNHCR with the intention of seeking asylum in the UK."

It said it identifies the small minority of refugees who are "particularly at risk", and resettles them, but that "new resettlement opportunities to the UK are minimal".

Critics of the government's asylum proposals, such as the Refugee Council, say they risk breaking international law.

The 1951 Refugee Convention is an international agreement outlining the rights of refugees around the world.

The main principle of the Refugee Convention states that refugees should not be returned to a country where they faced threats to life or freedom.

The government argues that its plan to send migrants to Rwanda for their asylum cases to be heard is in line with international law because it is "a safe third country". Critics disagree.

The Nationality and Borders Act changed the law so that asylum seekers in the UK could be rejected if it can be shown they passed through a safe third country before reaching the UK. But this has no basis in the Refugee Convention.

In March 2023, the government said that three ex-military sites in Essex, Lincolnshire and East Sussex would be used to house several thousand migrants.

It hopes the move will deter asylum seekers from coming to the UK, and reduce the amount of money spent on accommodation.

But these plans have faced legal challenges from local councils.

Braintree district council in North Essex tried to block the home office from moving migrants to a nearby military base - but the High Court ruled in the government's favour.

A local council in Lincolnshire has also taken legal action to try and block the government's plans.

The UK has agreed to give France £500m over three years which will go towards more patrol officers and a new detention centre.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak previously announced a new Small Boats Command Centre bringing together the military and National Crime Agency (NCA).

Clarification 2 December: This article has been amended to make clear that the government's "safe and legal" routes are only available to certain groups of people who have already been recognised as refugees, or family members of refugees already in the UK.

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