Britain will deploy the Royal Navy to patrol the channel and intercept vessels setting off from the French coast, Johnson said. Smugglers convicted of piloting the crafts could face life in prison.
Under the plan, which requires the approval of Parliament, most migrants who cross the channel illegally will be deemed inadmissible for claiming asylum in Britain, because their journeys will have taken them through safe countries where they could have made an asylum application.
Johnson suggested that “tens of thousands” of such migrants could be sent to Rwanda, where they would either apply for asylum or refugee status – or be returned to their home countries.
He called the African nation “one of the safest countries in the world, globally recognized for its record of welcoming and integrating migrants.”
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British officials said the policy will be to send all inadmissible adults – men and women – to Rwanda. They said they would not send children or unaccompanied minors, nor would they break up families with children. Those deemed to have viable asylum claims may remain in Britain to pursue their cases.
“It’s a striking fact that around 7 out of 10 of those arriving in small boats last year were men under 40, paying people smugglers to queue-jump and taking up our capacity to help genuine women and child refugees,” Johnson said.
“This is particularly perverse as those attempting crossings are not directly fleeing imminent peril as is the intended purpose of our asylum system,” he said. “They have passed through manifestly safe countries, including many in Europe, where they could – and should – have claimed asylum.”
British Home Secretary Priti Patel traveled to Rwanda on Thursday to sign a deal, which includes $ 160 million in aid to the country.
The plan, part of a new Nationality and Borders Bill, must first pass Parliament, where Johnson’s Conservative Party holds a large majority.
The opposition Labor Party called the proposal “unworkable, unethical and extortionate.” Advocacy groups warned that the measures could violate human rights.
Johnson conceded that there would probably be legal challenges seeking to block the plan’s implementation. He denied that the measures were “draconian or lacking in compassion.”
Johnson said it was far worse to let people drown in the channel. He denounced human traffickers for their role.
“These vile people-smugglers are abusing the vulnerable and turning the channel into a watery graveyard, with men, women and children drowning in unseaworthy boats and suffocating in refrigerated lorries,” he said.
Johnson predicted that the plan would soon be adopted as “an international model.”
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He said it is meant to “break the business model” of the smuggling gangs, which can make $ 400,000 for each launch of an unseaworthy dinghy.
He said he was sending a message that people who cross illegally “risk ending up not in the UK but in Rwanda.” He described this as “a considerable deterrent.”
Some migrants are smuggled into Britain in shipping containers, cargo trucks and trains. In 2019, the bodies of 39 Vietnamese people – including two boys and eight women – were found in a refrigerated tractor-trailer abandoned by its driver in southeast England.
The channel, beset by fast-moving tides and frequent storms, is also one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. In a single incident in November, at least 27 migrants died while attempting the crossing.
More than 28,500 people were apprehended last year trying to enter Britain via the channel, up from 8,400 in 2020.
About 600 people made the crossing Wednesday. Johnson warned that thousands a day might make the attempt in the coming weeks, as the weather warms and the sea calms.
“I accept that these people – whether 600 or 1,000 – are in search of a better life,” he said. “But it is these hopes – these dreams – that have been exploited.”
Johnson stressed that the British people were welcoming and generous, but that illegal immigration put an unsustainable burden on the country’s schools, health-care system and welfare state.
“We cannot sustain a parallel illegal system,” the prime minister said. “Our compassion may be infinite, but our capacity to help people is not.”