Border Force to get powers to forcibly detain migrants at sea

Border Force officers are to get new powers to forcibly detain migrants at sea, board their vessels and return them to the country from which they came.

The Nationality and Borders Bill, to be laid before Parliament on Tuesday, will ramp up Border Force’s capability at sea with tactics similar to the controversial Australian "push back" policy that caused international outrage.

The move follows a continued surge in Channel migrants, with a record 2,000 in June and a doubling to 6,000 reaching the UK in the first six months of this year. More than 600 have arrived in the UK in the first four days of this month.

A government source said: "Border Force will be able to forcibly detain someone at sea and bring them on to their vessel if they are not co-operating."

The Bill also confirms powers to stop and turn back vessels wherever officials suspect they are carrying illegal migrants.

Border Force and the Navy have trialled technologies to turn back migrants, including nets to disable propellers, but the Home Office has yet to secure an agreement with France to take them back amid disagreements over the safety risks of the approach.

It comes on top of powers for migrants intercepted in the English Channel to be arrested on arrival in the UK. The Bill will create new offences for arriving in the UK "without a valid entry clearance" with a maximum penalty of four years in prison.

Ministers are concerned the current offence of "entering" the UK without leave does not cover migrants intercepted at sea. Traffickers will face maximum life prison terms and Border Force will be handed powers to seize and destroy boats suspected of being used for illegal migration.

Asylum seekers deemed to have arrived in the UK illegally will no longer have the same entitlements as those who arrive via legal routes. 

Even if their claim is successful, they will only be granted temporary refugee status, which means they will be regularly reassessed for removal from the UK, have limited family reunion rights and no access to benefits unless destitute.

Only those who come to the UK through legitimate routes – via official government refugee schemes from war zones or to escape persecution – will be entitled to indefinite leave to remain.

Any migrants who have come through "safe" states such as France, Italy, Spain and Germany will be removed back to those countries.

Ministers have yet to agree bilateral deals with any EU countries to accept back migrants who travelled through them. In the absence of any deals, none have been sent back since Brexit, when the previous EU-wide Dublin agreement with the UK to accept returns lapsed.

However, Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, is taking powers to restrict the availability of visas for countries that refuse to take back their own citizens. She will also change the law to allow asylum seekers’ applications to be processed in a third country, to further deter migrants from choosing the UK.

The burden of proof to claim asylum on the basis of persecution if returned home will be raised to a "balance of probabilities" rather than a "reasonable degree of likelihood". There will be a one-stop approach to claims to prevent migrants making multiple submissions at late stages in the process.

Ms Patel said: "For too long, our broken asylum system has lined the pockets of the vile criminal gangs who cheat the system. This isn’t fair to the vulnerable people who need protection or the British public who pay for it. It’s time to act.

"This legislation delivers on what the British people have voted for time and time again – for the UK to take full control of its borders. It paves the way for a fair but firm system that will break the business model of the gangs that facilitate dangerous and illegal journeys to the UK while speeding up the removal of those with no right to be here."

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