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UK Measures To Thwart Asylum Seekers Are Draconian, Inhumane And Ineffective

The UK is stepping up its long list of draconian and
inhuman measures aimed at curbing small boats’ crossing in
the English Channel, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights
Monitor said in a statement today. We strongly condemn the
latest proposal of sentencing asylum seekers to up to four
years in prison only due to their forced method of arrival.
Such policies are aimed at creating a differential treatment
with less rights and less guarantees for people seeking a
safe refuge through desperate means.

Last Tuesday, the
British government introduced in parliament its new
Nationality and Borders Bill, described by the Home Office
as containing “the most radical changes to the broken
asylum system in decades”.

The fresh
legislation intends to make it a criminal offense for asylum
seekers to knowingly enter Britain without permission, with
the maximum sentence for them rising from six months’
imprisonment to four years, and for people smugglers from
the current maximum of 14 years up to life behind

The changes brought about in the bill
are set to create a differential treatment depending on
whether a migrant entered the UK via a regular or irregular
route, no longer granting the same rights and possibilities
to people who have no choice but to enter the country

“For the first time, whether people
enter the UK legally or illegally will have an impact on how
their asylum claim progresses, and on their status in the UK
if that claim is successful” stated UK Home Secretary
Priti Patel. She promised that those who used illegal means
to reach the UK would risk having their asylum claims
dismissed as “inadmissible”.

The Nationality and
Borders Bill is just the latest measure of the Home
Secretary’s vow to tackle “illegal migration head-on”
and to “fix the UK broken asylum

Toughening immigration rules was a
core manifesto pledge of the ruling Conservative party in
the last elections and, over the past year, it has been
undoubtedly put into practice and translated into a large
number of draconian measures to stop the influx of migrants
crossing the English Channel in small

One measure employed by the
current UK government is to criminalize asylum

For instance, giving to border
authorities more scope to make arrests, proposing to carry
out “boomerang deportations” that could be enacted in
“as little as 24-hours” and jailing asylum seekers for
steering the dinghies
across the English Channel even if
they have been forced to do so by smugglers and they are not
part of criminal gangs.

Another action is to
make it harder to physically reach the UK.
November, the British government signed a deal with France
to render the Channel route “unviable”.
They doubled the number of French police patrolling the
coastline, increased border security at ports and reinforced
the digital barriers with new drones, radars, cameras and
optronic binoculars to detect migrants and stop them from
crossing into the UK.

Previously, between August and
September, it tried several times to put in practice in the
Channel a
blockade strategy
similar to the Australian
controversial “turn back the boats” tactic to physically
prevent migrants’ fragile dinghies from entering UK

Last August, Home Secretary Patel appointed a
Clandestine Channel Threat Commander with the primary
responsibility of making the route impossible for small boat
crossings, including through stronger enforcement measures,
interceptions at sea and the direct return of boats. The
methods proposed include the
use of fishing nets
to block the propellers and
immobilize the boats, the installation of barricades in
certain areas of the Channel and the possibility of linking
small boats together to form a physical barrier.

recently, the British government proposed to transfer asylum
seekers abroad in offshore centers to have their asylum
claims dealt with outside the UK. It has been also
discussing with Denmark, which passed a
similar law
earlier this month, to create a sharing
processing center outside the EU, possibly in

Another measure employed is to
exacerbate immigration rules as a deterrent.
Secretary announced that the asylum system will make “much
harder for people to be granted refugee status based on
unsubstantiated claims”. Already by the end of last year,
British ministers changed
immigration rules
to prevent people from claiming asylum
in the UK if they have previously travelled through or have
a connection to a “safe” third country, so that since 1
January 2021 these asylum claims are treated as

UK is also planning to
reform the age assessments
of newly arrived asylum
seekers to stop young adults pretending to be minors. The
rigorous new assessments could be carried out by immigration
officials instead than social workers and include new
“scientific methods” like the use of bone scanners to
determine age. It will be also lowered the current
requirement to treat claimants as adults if they appear to
be over 25, to “over 18”.

Meanwhile, the asylum
system in the UK has become increasingly inefficient,
dysfunctional and marked by chronic delays, with the number
of asylum seekers for more than a year for an initial
decision increased
almost tenfold
in the past decade, from 3,588 people in
2010 to 33,016 in 2020. Hundreds among them have been
waiting for over five years in a limbo of uncertainty,
terrible for both their physical and mental

“The blind and persistent focus of the
UK government to simply shut down the borders and toughen
immigration rules just puts people seeking protection at
even greater risk of human rights’ abuses. You cannot deal
with migration by stopping the boats with fishing nets”
said Michela Pugliese, Legal Researcher at Euro-Med Monitor,
There is no such thing as an illegal asylum
seeker. Thousands of people risking their life across the
Channel who would previously be recognized as refugees and
granted protection in the UK, under the new rules could be
turned away and put in jail just because of their mode of
arrival, which is the only one really available at the

Euro-Med Monitor calls on the UK
to halt the criminalization of irregular entry of migrants
and respect Article 31 of the 1951 Refugee Convention, that
recognises that in exercising the right to seek asylum,
refugees are often compelled to arrive in a territory
without authorisation and provides that they should not be
penalised for this; and to introduce legal mechanisms for
people to seek asylum safely instead of imposing greater
restrictions and harsher punishments that would only force
them to take new and more dangerous routes to reach the

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