A migrant support group has launched legal action against Priti Patel’s plans to “push back” rubber dinghies into the English Channel, the same day dozens of asylum seekers drowned off the French coast.
Channel Rescue, an organization founded last year to keep migrants safe, said it had taken pre-trial action against the Home Secretary, saying the policy was “life-threatening, inhumane and illegal “.
The group of volunteers are challenging the legality of their decision under British and international maritime law, which states that no one can endanger other boats at sea.
In a 2017 briefing paper, Oxfam described “refoulement” as “the practice of the authorities of preventing people from seeking protection on their territory by forcibly returning them to another country”.
It is believed that the strategy would be used in limited circumstances by the UK to return larger migrant boats to French waters. However, experts claimed earlier this year that implementing such tactics would put migrants’ lives at risk.
Channel Rescue’s decision came as more than 30 asylum seekers, including five women and a young girl, died Wednesday in the waters off Calais in what is considered the biggest loss of life on the road .
French and British leaders were among those who expressed sadness over the tragedy, with Boris Johnson saying he was “shocked” and “appalled” by the deaths.
Ms Patel also tweeted that her thoughts were with the families of those affected by the crash.
However, she added her claim that the government’s new immigration plan “will overhaul our failing asylum system and address many of the long-standing pull factors encouraging migrants to make the perilous journey of the country. France in the United Kingdom “.
The Home Secretary made the assurance despite the Home Office admitting two months ago that there was only “limited” evidence suggesting that his new immigration plans would reduce Channel crossings.
The Equality Impact Assessment of the Nationality and Borders Bill, which was released in September, also suggested that the reforms had “significant scope for indirect discrimination” and “potential for discrimination. direct discrimination on the basis of race ”.
As part of the planned changes to the British asylum system, Ms Patel has repeatedly referred to the new policy of ‘refoulement’ in recent months, but the plan to send the boats back to France has not yet been announced by the Minister. government.
In September, Channel Rescue said some of its volunteers saw the UK Border Force training its staff to execute the tactics by jet skiing.
Explaining his legal decision to block the proposal, Kim Bryan, a Channel Rescue volunteer, said, “We believe this proposed policy is deadly, inhuman and illegal.
“We gave the Interior Ministry until November 29 to respond to our legal challenge. If we do not receive a satisfactory response, we will initiate judicial review proceedings.
In addition to changing the policy itself, the law firm Reed Smith LLP, acting on behalf of Channel Rescue, called on the government to release its “pushback” plan under the open law principle of the common law.
Michael Skrein, Company Litigation Partner, said: “We are very pleased to assist Channel Rescue in their efforts to bring this very controversial policy to court. There is a real need for transparency and judicial control over what is proposed.
In response, a spokesperson for the Interior Ministry said The independent: “To protect lives and break the business model of the criminal gangs facilitating these crossings, it is only right that we continue to evaluate and test a range of safe and legal options to find ways to stop the small boats doing this. dangerous and unnecessary trip. “
Reacting to the dozens of Channel deaths on Wednesday, Channel Rescue said, “Our hearts are with the friends and family of those who lost their lives today.
“These deaths, like so many others, could have been avoided. The current approach is not working; our government must create a system to allow people to safely seek asylum.
“Refoulement policies and the Nationality and Borders Bill will empower smugglers and worsen the situation for the small number of people seeking asylum in the UK.”
The latest deaths come after a sharp increase in Channel crossings this year. More than 25,700 people have made the dangerous journey to the UK so far in 2021, more than three times the number in 2020.