UK’s plan to push back small boats in Channel ‘not the solution,’ lawmakers say

LONDON — U.K. government proposals to push back small boats carrying undocumented migrants across the Channel could breach Britain’s human rights obligations, a group of MPs warned.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights said Wednesday that the Home Office should set out clearly how Border Force officials would enforce the pushback powers, to be introduced in the Nationality and Borders Bill.

“The government is determined to prevent these crossings, but pushbacks are not the solution,” said Harriet Harman, the committee’s chairwoman. “They will not deter crossings, the seas will become even more dangerous and the people smugglers will continue to evade punishment. Current failures in the immigration and asylum system cannot be remedied by harsher penalties and more dangerous enforcement action.”

The committee said in a report that officials who commit a criminal offense while carrying out the pushbacks should not be immune from prosecution, especially if migrants die during the operations.

It urged the government to scrap the pushback provisions if it cannot show they are compatible with human rights law and the U.N. Refugee Convention, as well as prioritize measures that do not hinder people’s safety at sea. The bill is at report stage in the House of Commons.

Last month, Home Secretary Priti Patel told the House of Lords that pushbacks would be legal. Border Force officers from the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, however, have said they are considering launching a High Court challenge to their lawfulness.

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