People smugglers and migrants seeking to make their way to the UK on small boats will face tougher prison sentences, the Home Office has announced.
The stricter enforcements form part of the Nationality and Borders Bill, which is due for its first reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday,
The proposed legislation intends to make it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK unlawfully, with the maximum sentence rising from six months’ imprisonment to four years.
The Government also plans to increase the tariff for people smugglers, with those found guilty facing life behind bars – up from the current maximum of 14 years.
The Home Office said the sterner punishments were a bid to prevent ‘asylum shopping’, claiming that some migrants are allegedly ‘picking the UK as a preferred destination over others’.
Home Secretary Priti 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 Labour party has said it will oppose the bill, with shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds referring to the legislation as ‘unconscionable’.
Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, added: ‘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.’
A clause contained in the legislation will broaden the offence of arriving unlawfully so that it encompasses arrival and entry into the UK.
The moves are designed to allow those intercepted in UK territorial seas to be brought into the country to be prosecuted, aides said.
The Bill’s unveiling comes after record numbers of people have made the perilous journey across the English Channel in small boats so far this year, with nearly 6,000 reaching the UK in the first six months of 2021.
The total figure for 2020 – 8,417 – could be eclipsed within two months if the number of crossings seen in July and August last year are repeated.
The changes brought about in the Bill are set to consider how people entered the UK – whether their arrival was legal or not – when dealing with any subsequent asylum claim, and on their status in the UK if that claim is successful, the Home Office said.
Attempts will also be introduced to prevent individuals from making repeated ‘meritless’ claims for asylum designed to delay their removal, the Home Office added.
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