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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Aletha Adu and Rajeev Syal

Suella Braverman: small boat arrivals have ‘values at odds with our country’

Suella Braverman has said people who enter the UK illegally after crossing the Channel on small boats “possess values which are at odds with our country” as well as “heightened levels of criminality”.

The home secretary refused to criticise claims by the immigration minister Robert Jenrick that people who cross the Channel to seek asylum in the UK threatened to “cannibalise” the UK’s compassion.

Braverman defended the government’s illegal migration bill, which will be debated by MPs on Wednesday afternoon and which aims to detain all asylum seekers who arrive via small boats. But she could not set out how many more detention spaces would be needed to accommodate them as they waited for decisions on their applications.

Under the new rules, people seeking asylum can be detained for 28 days without the right to access a lawyer or apply for bail. Terrorism suspects can be detained for only 14 days.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Braverman said “some hundreds, thousands” of extra places would be needed, adding: “We’ve got an existing detention capacity of 1,000-2,000 places at the moment. We need to increase that – I’m not going to give you a precise figure.

“But what I’m saying is, we don’t need to increase it by 45,000 [the number who arrived by small boat in 2022], no one is saying that we need 45,000 or 100,000 new detention places.

“That’s because we want to design a scheme whereby if you arrive here illegally you will be detained and thereafter relocated to a safe country like Rwanda, or your home country if it’s safe.”

If the government’s bill is successful, Braverman said they would “not put a limit” to the number of migrants they could deport to Rwanda.

In a speech on Tuesday at a Policy Exchange event in central London, Jenrick also said housing people seeking refuge in hotels could result in destabilising local communities, and said politicians should take heed of protests in Knowsley, widely reported to have been fuelled by far-right activity.

Asked whether she agreed with Jenrick’s view, the home secretary said: “I think that the people coming here illegally do possess values which are at odds with our country. We are seeing heightened levels of criminality when related to the people who’ve come on boats related to drug-dealing, exploitation, prostitution.

“There are real challenges which go beyond the migration issue of people coming here illegally. We need to ensure that we bring an end to the boat crossings.”

At an event in central London, Braverman justified her comments, claiming “heightened levels of criminality” from Channel refugees including “drug-dealing, exploitation, prostitution” by saying she had been told this in conversations with senior police officers.

“We’ve got people here who are coming here illegally. That in itself is criminal behaviour and that’s why we’re setting up our new framework on illegal migration,” she said.

“But in my conversations with many police chiefs around the country, they are now reporting back to me that [about] drugs gangs. They’re dealing with people who came on small boats. Not in all cases, but it is becoming a notable feature of everyday crime fighting on the streets of England and Wales.

“We cannot ignore the fact that many people are coming here illegally, and they’re getting very quickly involved in the drugs trade and other exploitation in criminality and prostitution.”

The new legislation could leave tens of thousands unable to access protection they are entitled to under international law, cost billions and do nothing to alleviate the asylum backlog, according to analysis from the Refugee Council.

Asylum seekers fleeing Sudan will also face being deported from the UK because the government is not planning to set up a safe route scheme such as those for Ukraine and Afghanistan.

Braverman told Sky News “there is no good reason for anybody to get into a small boat to cross the Channel in search of a new life in the UK”, as there were agencies such as the UNHCR set up “in the region”.

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