UK border authorities could be given new powers to push back migrant and refugee boats in the English Channel and immunity over refugee deaths, according to officials in the Home Office, the lead government department for immigration.
Home Secretary Priti Patel is working to bring about a new amendment in the Nationality and Borders Bill that would allow Border Force staff legal protections over any incidences, including deaths and injuries.
“We are working to absolutely go after the people smugglers and reduce the number of crossings, let me be very clear about this. This is the work of this government, and it is night and day. There is no complacency here,” Patel said on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show.
“But it is difficult, and that is why we are bringing the Nationality and Borders Bill forward. That is why we are bringing legislation forward. That is why [the] Border Force have new powers and will have new powers in terms of returning boats or pushing back, but also intercepting at sea, all within the law, I should say as well,” Patel added.
According to Patel, the aims and intentions of the bill, which is currently at the early stages of the parliamentary process, is to make the UK’s asylum system fairer, prevent the illegal entry of people to the UK and the removal of those who have no legal right to be in the country.
The bill would see refugees, asylum seekers and migrants who arrived by an illegal route have their claim for asylum rejected, receive a prison sentence of up to four years and have their family members prevented from joining them in the UK. They will also have no access to public funds.
Despite claims by the Home Office that its border staff would be protected under the new law, legal professionals in immigration law have pointed out that there is no guarantee that the new provision will protect authorities from prosecution under international or domestic maritime laws.
“There are two qualifiers in the provision, and it is hard to see how it could be reasonable to leave someone to either drown at sea or in a small boat which doesn’t have enough fuel to reach land,” said Colin Yeo, an immigration barrister, as quoted by the Guardian magazine.
Patel has been under mounting pressure from Tory party members and Prime Minister Boris Johnson himself to end the crossing of refugees into the UK. However, it is not known yet whether the provision will actually protect authorities under international maritime laws.