'Extreme, illegal, cowardly': Patel's 'pushback' tactics for migrant boats condemned

10 September 2021, 00:58

Charities and opposition parties have condemned Priti Patel's 'pushback' tactics
Charities and opposition parties have condemned Priti Patel's 'pushback' tactics. Picture: Alamy / LBC
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Priti Patel's new 'pushback' tactics for migrant boats crossing the English Channel have been condemned by a charity as "extreme, illegal and cowardly".

It comes after the home secretary authorised Border Force staff to use turnaround methods for dinghies making the perilous journey across the often choppy waters.

The special sanctions will be used for "limited circumstances" on bigger migrant boats, it later emerged, and up the ante in the war on words between the UK and France surrounding migrant crossings.

Boris Johnson backed his colleague's approach during Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday, vowing to use "every possible tactic at our disposal" to put an end to the crisis.

But opposition to the announcement has been vociferous and clear among opposition parties and charities, who believe the methods could lead to more deaths and tragedies.

Read more: Patel sanctions 'pushback tactics' to send migrant boats back to France

Read more: Desperate migrants kiss British soil after making perilous trip across Channel

'I love this idea of picking them up and sending them back to France.'

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said deploying 'pushback' tactics in the world's busiest shipping canal "is dangerous and risks lives".

“The home secretary has failed to tackle the vile criminal gangs who are profiting from people smuggling and this should be her focus, along with securing an effective deal with France and safe and legal routes," he added.

"That the home secretary is even considering these dangerous proposals shows how badly she has lost control of this situation.”

Likewise, the Liberal Democrats branded the move "reckless", "cruel" and proof that Ms Patel "is not interested in saving lives".

Read more: More than 1000 migrants in small boats attempt Channel crossing in a day

Watch: Man says he 'locks his shed' because he's worried about influx of migrants in Kent

Relieved migrants kiss the ground after crossing the channel

The party's spokesperson for home affairs, Alistair Carmichael MP, said: “The government should be trying to stop people making these dangerous Channel crossings, not forcing them to try again.

“The home secretary's recklessly ideological immigration rules risk killing off our economic recovery before it has begun. Is it too much to hope that she might spend her time attending to that instead of looking for the next dog whistle photo op?"

Meanwhile, migrant charity Refugee Action shared an image on social media questioning the home secretary's new "pushback" tactics.

It suggested she was adopting the stance in order to "look tough" amid rumours of a Cabinet reshuffle.

The Twitter post read: "Is Priti Patel trying to keep people safe or keep people out? Trying to stop boat crossings or trying to stop people claiming asylum in the UK?

"This morning's 'pushbacks' announcement is extreme, illegal, cowardly and a depressing response to these questions."

The British Red Cross warned that the policy would "detract" from finding solutions that would give people alternatives to making the dangerous crossing through busy shipping lanes.

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK's refugee and migrant rights director, said: "The government's pushback plan is senseless, dangerous and almost certainly unlawful.

"Intercepting vessels in the Channel is incredibly high risk and to push people back will endanger their lives, which is totally at odds with the legal duty of rescue at sea.

"People have every right to seek asylum in the UK, and they only make dangerous journeys and rely on smugglers because there are no safe alternatives made available to them."

Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action, claimed the home secretary has broken "international law" and described the "lethal response" as a "humanitarian disaster".

Read more: France bans sale of inflatable boats from Channel ports in bid to stop migrant crossings

In response, a Home Office spokesperson said: "We are seeing an unacceptable rise in dangerous and unnecessary small boat crossings, that’s why we continue to explore all options available to bring these numbers down.   

"Our primary focus is on preventing people from entering the Channel, tackling the criminal gangs responsible and protecting lives.  

"As part of our ongoing operational response, we continue to evaluate and test a range of safe and legal options for stopping small boats.

"All operational procedures used at sea comply and are delivered in accordance with domestic and international law.

"We will fix the broken asylum system through our New Plan for Immigration, break the business model of people smugglers who put lives at risk and welcome people through safe and legal routes and as agreed at G7 we continue to cooperate with our international partners."