THE GOVERNMENT continues to demonise refugees and asylum seekers with fresh proposals to punish anyone who arrives on our shores in what the government regards as an ‘illegal’ way. New legislation will make it impossible for those who cross the channel in small boats to apply for asylum here. They will be held in detention camps pending deportation to a safe third country such as Rwanda. They will also be banned from ever returning to the UK.

This is an escalation of the previous policy whereby some asylum seekers would be deported to Rwanda for processing and resettlement there. None have gone yet because of legal challenges which are still going through the courts. The truth is that if the new law is passed it will be subject to the same legal challenges and it will not deter desperate people seeking asylum in the UK. It seems that it is the government that is acting illegally.

The government knows this, but they don’t care. The whole point is to tap into anti-immigration sentiment and persuade voters that the Tories are tough on immigration, while lefty, liberal do-gooders in the Labour Party are obstructing their efforts. In this they are helped by a compliant media. Both Sky and the BBC now refer to ‘illegal migrants’ instead of refugees or asylum seekers.

Labour’s response has been shameful. When the Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Jonathan Ashworth, was asked if he supported the government’s policy on small boats he could have said, ‘No. It breaks international law and is immoral.’ Instead he condemned it for being ‘unworkable.’ Wes Streeting was the same, criticising the process and saying the government had had 13 years to get it right. Starmer said it was just an empty ploy to win votes at the upcoming local elections. Blairite Lord Blunkett described the new legislation as a trap for Labour that wouldn’t work anyway without French approval.

When Blunkett was Home Secretary under Tony Blair he set up camps for refugees and said they should not be allowed to register with GPs or send their children to local schools to avoid ‘swamping local communities.’

The only legal path open to refugees seeking to enter Britain now is if you already have a visa. Under the scheme even Afghan refugees at risk from the Taliban for helping British forces there are forced into small boats. Twenty two have been admitted under the Government’s Pathway Two resettlement scheme compared to over 8,000 who have arrived by small boats and under the new rules will be deported because they are, according to the government and Labour Party, thereby illegal.

If you are a refugee you are illegal in your own country. That is why you become a refugee. And it is a basic principle of international law that refugees fleeing from torture and death should be able to reach another country by any means and not be sanctioned for it. Freedom from Torture and the Red Cross have both made this point and condemned the government’s plans. So why can’t Labour?

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