Priti Patel’s claim that there is “legal basis” for bringing migrant boats back to France has been questioned by peers.
The House of Lords Justice and Home Affairs Committee said it was “not convinced” the plans were safe or valid, as a law that would give border force personnel legal immunity over refugee deaths passes Parliament.
In a letter sent to the home secretary on Wednesday, committee chair Baroness Hamavi said the recent deaths of at least 27 asylum seekers in the channel “clearly demonstrate the risk of exposure”.
“We are not yet convinced that having a policy where boats can be ‘turned’ is safe and/or legal,” he said.
“We are not aware that the government has published any arguments to substantiate the claim that there currently exists a legal basis.”
During an evidence session organized by the committee, the home secretary said the pushback policy was based on “saving lives and preventing people from drowning”.
Baroness Hamvy questioned this claim and wrote: “It is difficult to see how the practical implications of the strategy match the duty of rendering aid.”
The committee asked Ms Patel to answer a series of questions on the legal basis for the pushback and how it complies with international law by January 5.
Several legal challenges are being launched over the policy, including one by a union representing Border Force employees, and France has said it will not accept pushback.
Granthshala Understands that complex regulations imposed by the Home Office to prevent operations that violate international law mean that pushback can only occur in a certain area of the channel if a number of conditions are met.
Baroness Hamvy said in a statement: “The so-called ‘turn around’ policy would force the fragile small boats crossing the Channel to turn back. It is hard to imagine a situation in which those involved would not be at greater risk or where the captain would Don’t feel obligated to provide help.
“Instead, the home secretary has set a policy of forcing them to reverse. Even if there is a domestic legal basis, if it were to actually be implemented, it would almost certainly be in violation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.”
It comes as lawmakers voted against an amendment to the Nationality and Boundary Bill, which barred the powers from being used “in such a way or in circumstances that could endanger life at sea”.
A motion brought by Harriet Harman, chair of the Joint Human Rights Committee (JCHR), was defeated on Tuesday night by 313 votes to 235, while a series of other amendments to strengthen security around the pushback did not go to the vote.
Ms Harman questioned “what reason could the government possibly have to oppose the amendments”, adding that they “represent what they say”.
In a report published last week, the JCHR found that the plan to send migrant boats back to France was illegal and would put lives at risk.
It said the Nationality and Border Bill, which would grant partial immunity from prosecution to border force personnel if migrants drown during pushback, contains several unlawful clauses and questioned their effectiveness.
The committee warned that the bill would “effectively criminalize the act of seeking asylum in the UK” by making it a criminal offense to cross the Channel via small boat, or to access it by any other means without entry clearance.
Credit: www.independent.co.uk /