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Britain unveils new asylum laws to tackle its small boat crisis

Britain unveiled a new law Tuesday that will make it illegal for refugees or migrants to arrive on its shores in a small boat. File Photo by Andy Rain/EPA-EFE
1 of 4 | Britain unveiled a new law Tuesday that will make it illegal for refugees or migrants to arrive on its shores in a small boat. File Photo by Andy Rain/EPA-EFE

March 7 (UPI) -- British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Tuesday his government is to introduce new legislation aimed at stopping the tens of thousands of people crossing the English Channel in small boats each year by making it illegal.

Announcing the Illegal Migrants Bill in an article in The Sun, Sunak said the new law would mean people arriving in small boats would not be able to claim asylum as they currently are.

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Sunak said his plan would "do what's fair for those at home and those who have a legitimate claim to asylum -- a plan to take back control of our borders once and for all."

"This new law will send a clear signal that if you come to this country illegally, you will be swiftly removed," wrote Sunak. "That's the right and fair thing to do, especially for those who are being exploited by criminal gangs and putting their lives at risk to come here."

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The prime minister made stopping small boats, which last year brought 45,755 refugees and migrants to Britain's shores, one of five pledges he made in January for a more secure and prosperous future for Britain.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who is scheduled to address the House of Commons on the new law, said in a Twitter post that people arriving on small boats would be detained and removed to their own country, or a safe third country such as Rwanda with which Britain has a migrant-hosting agreement.

The legislation published Tuesday also permanently bars those who arrive on small boats from entering Britain in the future or applying for British citizenship.

"Our asylum system is overwhelmed. It's not fair that people who travel through a string of safe countries and then come to the U.K. illegally can jump the queue and game our system," Braverman said.

It is already illegal for asylum seekers to attempt to travel to Britain by boat. However, under international law once on British soil they can claim asylum.

There are no international waters between Britain and France, from which most boats depart, which means asylum seekers are in Britain as soon as they cross the mid-point of the English Channel.

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The controversial proposed new law has met with widespread criticism from refugee rights groups and opposition politicians and even border force representatives who argue it is unworkable.

Labor leader Keir Starmer, who served as the country's chief prosecutor from 2008 to 2013, voiced doubts over whether the bill was legal saying he was not at all confident that it was.

"I think we've got to be very careful with international law here," said Starmer.

The Immigration Services Union which represents border staff said the plans were confusing as they did not seem possible without the Rwanda policy functioning and risked sparking a surge in crossings as people smugglers scrambled to beat the deadline of when the new law came into force.

The Rwanda policy, which the government attempted to introduce last year, involves a five-year plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda for processing and permits those granted refugee status to apply to settle there.

Emma Stevenson, deputy chief executive of Choose Love, which provides aid to refugees, said that 59 people, including children and a newborn, died at sea last week while attempting to make the journey.

"Rather than offering a genuine lifeline to prevent tragedy, the government is trying to bypass its responsibility to the European convention on human rights," said Stevenson.

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