Border Force staff could be offered immunity when turning back migrant boats in the Channel. According to a report in the Guardian, Home Office officials have confirmed that Priti Patel is seeking to introduce a provision in the nationality and borders bill to give officials legal protection in the event of migrants drowning.
According to Home Office figures, more than 18,000 people have made the crossing from France to England in small boats this year, compared to just over 8,460 in 2020. It was reported by BBC News that 11 boats with 364 migrants on board crossed the English Channel to reach Kent on Sunday and a further 40 on Friday and Saturday with 1,115 people making the journey. There had been nearly 300 arrests and 65 convictions related to small-boat crossings so far this year.
Under controversial bill, presently at committee stage, an asylum seeker who arrives in the UK without prior authorisation would face up to four years in prison. ‘Whether the provision, tucked away in an obscure corner of the bill, would actually protect officers from conviction under international maritime laws could be tested in the courts,’ writes Rajeev Syal, the Guardian’s home affairs editor.
The UN expert on refugees recently warned that legislation would break international law. ‘The bill revolves around the notion that refugees are required to seek asylum in the first safe country they find,’ Rossella Pagliuchi-Lor told MPs. ‘Now to be clear, this principle is not found in the Refugee Convention.’
According to the Guardian report, the proposed schedule offering immunity of the bill reads: ‘A relevant officer is not liable in any criminal or civil proceedings for anything done in the purported performance of functions under this part of this schedule if the court is satisfied that (a) the act was done in good faith, and (b) there were reasonable grounds for doing it.’
The immigration barrister Colin Yeo told the Guardian that any statutory provision was unlikely to be effective. ‘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,’ he said.
The Home Office has confirmed that the intention of the legislation is to protect Border Force officials from prosecution: https://t.co/Kq5wz0bnE5 https://t.co/W2S9DzYrCI
— Colin Yeo (@ColinYeo1) October 13, 2021