Migrants crossing Channel to claim asylum in Britain 'will no longer be prosecuted'

8 July 2021, 21:01 | Updated: 9 July 2021, 12:37

Migrants crossing the English Channel to claim asylum in the UK will not be prosecuted.
Migrants crossing the English Channel to claim asylum in the UK will not be prosecuted. Picture: PA

By Emma Soteriou

Migrants attempting to cross the Channel to claim asylum in the UK "will no longer be prosecuted", the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has said.

An agreement was made between police, prosecutors, the National Crime Agency, Border Force and the Home Office over cases of "illegal entry", also covering those arriving by lorry.

The guidance - published on Thursday - sets out the circumstances in which attempting to cross the English Channel is considered criminal.

Criminal charges may be considered for people bringing migrants into the country while posing a risk to their lives.

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The CPS confirmed that "individuals who have played a significant role in people-smuggling, including those who organise and pilot dangerous boat crossings across the English Channel, can expect to face prosecution where this is supported by the evidence".

It added: "However, recognising migrants and asylum seekers often have no choice in how they travel and face exploitation by organised crime groups (OCGs), prosecutors are also asked to consider the published public interest factors in charging those merely entering illegally.

"The guidance therefore advises that passengers of boats and other vehicles should not be prosecuted unless they are repeat offenders or have previously been deported - and should instead be with dealt with by administrative removal channels."

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Frank Ferguson, the CPS lead on immigration crime, said that the approach was a good balance between "deterring criminal gangs from attempting dangerous crossings and acting in the interests of justice and compassion".

"It is right that those who exploit and profit from the desperation of others, or put lives at risk through controlling or driving overcrowded small boats or confined lorries, are considered for prosecution," he added.

"But we also have a duty to consider the public interest in prosecuting passengers, who often have no choice about their method of travel, for offences that can usually be better dealt with by removal."

This comes as ministers have been accused of trying to criminalise refugees under the Nationality and Borders Bill, which was introduced to Parliament on Tuesday.

Home Secretary Priti Patel shared plans for the "fair but firm" immigration system, with the Home Office insisting that the changes - which will mean tougher penalties for those attempting the crossing - "prioritise those most in need of protection".

A Home Office spokesperson said: "In order to deter these deadly crossings it is vital we are able to take action against those who travel to the country illegally and those who facilitate illegal crossings.

"By creating a new offence of illegal arrival in the UK, in addition to illegal entry, we will make it easier to prosecute small boat pilots who facilitate these dangerous journeys regardless of where they are intercepted.

"This guidance is for existing criminal offences, and we look forward to discussing future guidance with the CPS when the offences in the Nationality and Borders Bill come into force."