Ministers in the UK are to reveal proposals for a suite of new laws paving the way for offshore centres for asylum seekers and criminal charges for migrants “knowingly” arriving in the UK without permission.
The Nationality and Borders Bill, formerly known as the sovereign borders bill, has been described by the Home Office as containing “the most radical changes to the broken asylum system in decades” making it harder for those who enter illegally to stay in the UK.
But campaigners say the new laws could see thousands of refugees turned away and vulnerable migrants criminalised for seeking a better life.
The home secretary, Priti Patel, said it was part of her mission to crack down on “vile criminals” who run a flourishing smuggling operation across the channel. If the laws are passed, people-smuggling will attract tougher sentencing, up to life imprisonment.
Ms Patel said she is also going to make it easier to remove migrants who have arrived in the country unlawfully and to punish countries that refuse to take back their own citizens with a new “power to control visa availability” for legal entrants to the UK.
The plans will also provide for the removal of asylum seekers to offshore centres where they can be housed while their claims, or appeals, are being processed.
Ms Patel said: “For too long, our broken asylum system has lined the pockets of the vile criminal gangs who cheat the system. This isn’t fair to the vulnerable people who need protection or the British public who pay for it. It’s time to act.
“This legislation delivers on what the British people have voted for time and time again – for the UK to take full control of its borders. It paves the way for a fair but firm system that will break the business model of the gangs that facilitate dangerous and illegal journeys to the UK while speeding up the removal of those with no right to be here,” said Ms Patel.
A group of people thought to be migrants crossing the Channel in a small boat headed in the direction of Dover, Kent, last August. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
The bill will also include proposals for reform to the legal system to “make it fairer, with faster access to justice to help prevent the need for last-minute legal claims”.
A “one-stop” legal process is one new idea to ensure that asylum and human rights claims and any other matters are made and considered at the same time. The lord chancellor, Robert Buckland, said the reforms would “reduce the burden” on the legal system.
Analysis of Home Office data by the Refugee Council suggests 9,000 people who would be accepted as refugees under current rules – those confirmed to have fled war or persecution by official checks – may no longer be given safety in the UK due to their method of arrival under the reforms.
The charity’s chief executive, Enver Solomon, said for decades people had taken “extraordinary measures to flee oppression” but had gone on to become “law-abiding citizens playing by the rules and paying their taxes as proud Britons”.
He accused the government of “choosing to not only turn away those in need of safety but also treat them as criminals”, adding: “This anti-refugee bill will drive an already inefficient and ineffective system into disarray with even worse delays and far greater expense.”
The British Red Cross said it welcomed “long-needed” reform to the UK’s asylum system, but said compassion and fairness must remain at its heart.
“We have major concerns about the proposals, which would see someone’s case and the support they receive judged on how they entered the country, rather than the dangers they face,” said Mike Adamson, the BRC’s chief executive.
“As MPs begin to work on the bill, we urge them to remember that behind a term like ‘refugee’ or ‘asylum seeker’ is a person who simply wants to live safely, have the chance to rebuild their life and contribute to communities,” he added.
The government is also planning to change how a migrant’s age is assessed, to help protect children from being wrongly moved into the adult asylum system but also to stop adults falsely claiming they are minors. – Guardian