PLANS TO criminalise and dissuade people from trying to seek refuge in the UK will breach human rights laws.

A committee report released today found that the Priti Patel’s plans within the Nationalities and Borders Bill to stop people from coming to the UK without a visa or immigration leave could be illegal.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights, made up of MPs and Peers, has also suggested that Ms Patel’s’ plans to forcibly push back people trying to cross the Channel in small boats should be scrapped if the Government cannot prove they are compatible with human rights obligations.

READ MORE: 'Unacceptable' number of migrants cross Channel in a single day

The Committee has called on the UK Government to instead prioritise measures that would protect people who are crossing the Channel.

They have also asked for reassurances that border force officials would not be immune from prosecution if they commit a crime which leads to a loss of life at sea.

Their report states: “If a criminal offence has been committed whilst undertaking pushbacks or other maritime enforcement operations, it is difficult to understand why there should be a specific defence or immunity from prosecution for immigration officers or enforcement officers.”

The report is part of the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ ongoing legislative scrutiny of the Nationalities and Borders Bill. It focuses on Part 3 of the Bill which sets out the Government’s proposed changes to immigration law and sets out new powers for enforcement. 

The past year has seen a sharp rise in the number of people trying to cross the English channel on small boats, with more than 1000 people making the crossing in a single day last month.

On November 24, 27 people drowned trying to cross, prompting politicians and campaigners to call for the Home Secretary to take stricter action to prevent the crossings.

READ MORE: Sturgeon calls for migrants not to be used as 'political footballs'

Some of the tactics suggested by the Home Office include potentially using controversial pushback methods, which would see the boats turned back towards France.

This, the Committee argued, is “likely to see the UK act in contravention of its international obligations.”

They also argued that greater powers to board, divert and detain vessels would add danger to an already perilous route, and would not deter people smugglers or those risking their lives to make the journey.

HeraldScotland: Harriet Harman MP. Image: House of Commons Harriet Harman MP. Image: House of Commons

Publishing the report, Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights Harriet Harman MP said: 

“The Channel is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and despite its short distance the cold and choppy waters make crossing perilous. In their desperation to come to the UK people risk travelling in small and unsuitable boats. As we have seen, the consequences are devastating when something goes wrong. 

“The Government is determined to prevent these crossings, but pushbacks are not the solution. They will not deter crossings, the seas will become even more dangerous and the people smugglers will continue to evade punishment. Current failures in the immigration and asylum system cannot be remedied by harsher penalties and more dangerous enforcement action. 

“The Bill is littered with measures that are simply incompatible with human rights law and the UK’s obligations under international treaties. That is why we have called on the Government amend the Bill by clearly setting out how any new measures can be carried out with respect to human rights law. Any measures that cannot meet these standards should be removed from the Bill completely.”