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Al Jazeera
Al Jazeera

How does the UK government plan to stop the Channel crossings?

People picked up at sea while attempting to cross the English Channel are escorted off a UK Border Force boat at Dover, southeast England [File: Carlos Jasso/AFP]

The United Kingdom government has set out details of a new law barring the entry of asylum seekers arriving by unauthorised means, such as in small boats across the English Channel.

Home secretary Suella Braverman admitted on Tuesday that the government had “pushed the boundaries of international law” with a bill dubbed the “Illegal Migration Bill” that will bar asylum claims by anyone who reaches the UK by irregular means, and allow the authorities to deport them “to their home country or a safe third country”.

But the proposed legislation has been lambasted by critics as unworkable and inhumane.

Why is the UK introducing this law?

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made stopping boat arrivals one of his five key priorities after the number of refugees and migrants arriving on the south coast of England soared to more than 45,000 last year, up 500 percent in the last two years, and almost 3,000 have arrived so far this year.

Sunak said the new legislation meant the government will “take back control of our borders, once and for all”, a reference to a slogan of the pro-Brexit campaign that successfully took the UK out of the European Union in 2016.

While the number of applications for asylum in the UK hit a 20-year high of nearly 75,000 in 2022, it is still below the EU average. Germany received more than 240,000 asylum applications last year.

How will the law work?

The legislation will enable the detention of unauthorised arrivals without bail, or judicial review for the first 28 days after arrival.

The legislation will disqualify refugees and migrants from using modern slavery laws to challenge government decisions to remove them in the courts.

Once deported, they will be banned for life from entering the UK, claiming asylum or seeking British citizenship.

Only children, people who are considered too ill to fly, or those at a “real risk of serious and irreversible harm” will be allowed to claim asylum in the UK.

Tens of thousands of people could be held in detention facilities until they are removed to another country.

The UK recently signed a deal with Rwanda to receive some of these people who are deported. But that policy is being challenged in the courts, and so far, no refugee has been flown to the East African country.

How have critics reacted to the proposed law?

The main opposition Labour Party has dismissed the law as “political posturing”, while other critics have underlined several practical and legal challenges to implementing the new law.

The government has said it plans to house people in disused military bases and vacation parks. But there are questions about whether the government has the capacity to keep people detained in these centres.

There are logistical questions about how the UK would be able to remove tens of thousands of people from the country each year, and where they would go.

Rwanda only had one hostel, with a capacity for 100 people, to accept UK arrivals last year, a fraction of those who have arrived in the UK on small boats, and the government has not signed any similar deals with other countries yet.


Refugee groups have said that most of the Channel arrivals are fleeing conflict, persecution or famine in countries such as Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. Analysts using Home Office data in 2021 showed a majority of applications for asylum made by people who arrived by boats were granted in the UK.

The Refugee Council charity said the new plans are “unworkable, costly and won’t stop the boats”.

The charity said the law would leave refugees “locked up in a state of misery” and compared the government’s approach to “authoritarian nations”, such as Russia, which have walked away from international human rights treaties.

Some lawyers have said barring unauthorised people arriving in the UK from claiming asylum would be incompatible with the United Nations Refugee Convention, of which the country is a signatory. This is likely to lead to legal challenges, which could delay removals.

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