More than 45,000 people who have crossed the Channel in small boats this year would have been detained indefinitely in a “permanent limbo” under Rishi Sunak’s flagship migration policy, a leading refugee charity has calculated.
The prime minister announced proposals this month to ban anybody who comes to the UK irregularly from applying for asylum and then deporting them as soon as possible. A new immigration bill is expected to be introduced within weeks.
An analysis by the Refugee Council has found that, because of a lack of returns agreements with other countries, 45,237 men, women and children who arrived in 2022 would have been held in detention but would not have been deported.
“They would not be able to be removed, but neither would they be able to progress an asylum application, work or access support from statutory services,” a statement from the group said.
The calculation comes amid reports that the attorney general, Victorias Prentis, has warned Sunak that the proposed bill, one of the government’s priorities, will “never get through the courts” because the prolonged detention of migrants will be immediately challenged.
Sunak said on 4 January the legislation would make sure that “if you come to this country illegally, you are detained and swiftly removed”.
Home Office sources said anybody who crossed the Channel but had passed through another country would be in effect banned from applying for asylum, and their claim would automatically be deemed inadmissible.
However, according to the Refugee Council analysis, if ministers implemented this policy without additional returns agreements in place – and if the number of people making the crossing in small boats remained the same as in 2022 – then it would leave 45,237 people (98.9% of those making the crossing) in “a permanent limbo”.
The figure is based on the number of people the Home Office has been able to secure returns agreements for as part of the inadmissibility process introduced on 31 December 2020.
Between 1 January 2021 and 31 March 2022, the Home Office issued 12,286 notices of intent, where they believed someone’s claim may be inadmissible.
However, up to 30 September only 83 inadmissibility decisions, which can only be made once the Home Office has an agreement with a third country for the removal of the individual concerned, had been issued – just 0.7% of cases.
“Applying that same success rate to all those who crossed the Channel in 2022 would mean that 309 people were removed,” the charity’s analysis said. “Even if an additional 200 people were removed as a result of the Rwanda scheme becoming operational, this would still leave 98.9% – 45,237 people – unable to be removed.”
According to the Mail on Sunday, Prentis warned No 10 that moves to allow migrants to be detained without having their cases heard for three months – when the maximum permitted for terrorism suspects is 28 days – would not get through the courts.
Lawyers have previously warned the plans to take away the right to claim asylum for people who arrived to the UK by small boat would break international laws established with the 1951 UN refugee convention.
Under the proposed changes, the government says it will also be able to withdraw access to initial protections, and any wider protections such as a paused deportation, if someone has been found to have made a “bad faith” claim to be a victim of modern slavery or human trafficking.
A government spokesperson said the Refugee Council report “makes speculations about new legislation that we have yet to fully announce.”
“People should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach – not put their lives at risk by paying people smugglers to take dangerous and illegal journeys across the Channel,” they said.
A government source said that the claims in the Mail on Sunday story were “completely untrue”.