Priti Patel vows to deter migrants crossing the channel illegally with tough jail terms

4 July 2021, 09:07 | Updated: 4 July 2021, 17:22

Priti Patel said she wants to "fix" the "broken" asylum system
Priti Patel said she wants to "fix" the "broken" asylum system. Picture: PA

By Will Taylor

Migrants who use small boats to get to the UK and people-smugglers both face heavier prison sentences to stop "asylum shopping".

The Nationality and Borders Bill, which is due for its first reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday, forms part of Home Secretary Priti Patel's bid to "fix" the "broken asylum system".

If passed, the new law would make it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK without permission, with the maximum sentence for those who enter the country unlawfully increasing from six months in prison to four years.

People smugglers face life sentences, up from the current limit of 14 years.

The Home Office said it would prevent "asylum shopping", claiming that some migrants are "picking the UK as a preferred destination over others".

But Amnesty International urged the Government to provide safe routes for people fleeing persecution.

Read more: At least 43 migrants drown off Tunisian coast, charity says

Read more: Home Secretary: Social media firms must delete migrant crossing videos

Ms Patel said: "The Nationality and Borders Bill contains vital measures to fix the UK's broken asylum system.

"Our new plan for immigration is fair but firm.

"We will welcome people through safe and legal routes whilst preventing abuse of the system, cracking down on illegal entry and the criminality associated with it."

The Home Office said it was "very likely that those travelling to the UK via small boat will have come from a safe European Union country in which they could have claimed asylum".

It added: "Where this is the case, they are not seeking refuge at the earliest opportunity or showing good reason for seeking to enter the UK illegally but are instead 'asylum shopping' by picking the UK as a preferred destination over others and using an illegal route to get here."

The law contains a clause that it said to allow those who are intercepted in UK territorial waters to be prosecuted.

Record numbers of people have tried to make the journey across the channel this year.

Nearly 6,000 reached the UK within the first half of 2021, compared to 8,417 all of last year.

The Government has previously claimed that 62% of claims are made by people who entered the UK "illegally" and that 42,000 failed asylum seekers were still living in the country.

The bill aims to take into account whether people entered the UK legally or not when dealing with a subsequent asylum claim, and the Government wants to stop individuals making repeated "meritless" claims that delay their removal.

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK's refugee and migrant rights director, said: "While the Home Office continues to make no safe and legal routes to the UK available for those claiming asylum, some people will continue to be forced to risk their lives to do so - including in small boats across the Channel.

"Instead of peddling deliberately misleading myths and untruths about asylum and migration, the Home Office should be establishing safe routes for those few people escaping persecution who wish to seek asylum here."