The Nationality and Borders Act came into force on Tuesday, in a move which Amnesty International UK refugee and migrant rights director Steve Valdez-Symonds described as “a truly bleak day for refugees fleeing conflict and persecution”.
The legislation increases the maximum penalty for illegally entering the UK or overstaying a visa, rising from six months in prison to four years and will enable the government to deport foreign national offenders up to 12 months before the end of their prison sentences.
In addition, anyone found to have piloted a small boat carrying migrants across the Channel will now face life in prison.
The UK Government has argued that the legislation will enable Britain to “take back control of our borders". It follows widespread criticisms of the government’s scheme to send refugees who arrive in the UK illegally – such as in the back of a truck or in a private boat from Europe - to Rwanda for processing and resettlement. The first flight to Rwanda was abandoned earlier this month after a last-minute ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, however, the government has pledged to continue with the scheme.
Mr Valdez-Symonds said: “It’s a truly bleak day for refugees fleeing conflict and persecution.Despite widespread opposition, including on its own backbenches, the Government has today ripped up the 1951 Refugee Convention and shamefully abandoned the international responsibility it owes to refugees.”
He added: “Completely contrary to the Home Secretary’s claims, the measures in this act will make people even more vulnerable to smugglers and abusers while doing further damage to the UK asylum system and dragging the UK’s reputation through the mud."
Figures from the International Organisation for Migration have shown that the number of migrants has rocketed in recent years, although the percentage of the global population remains around three per cent.
However, those who die or go missing while trying to cross into another country has risen dramatically, to 5,914 in 2021, with the deadliest route deemed that across the Mediterranean to enter Europe.
The number of migrants crossing the Channel so far this year reached 12,312 - compared to 5,654 by this time in 2021 and 2,449 in 2020.
In the US, the group of migrants was found dead on Monday, in and around an abandoned tractor-trailer on the outskirts of San Antonio. At least 16 others, including children, are being treated in hospital, mainly for heat exhaustion and dehydration.
Mexico’s foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, said on Twitter that the dead included 22 Mexicans, seven Guatemalans and two Hondurans. Others have not yet been identified.
Republican Texas governor Greg Abbott blamed president Joe Biden for the deaths. Mr Biden’s government has tried to overturn laws implemented by his predecessor Donald Trump during the Covid pandemic which has essentially shut the border to migrants. The policy is currently being considered by the US Supreme Court.
He said: “These deaths are on Biden. They are a result of his deadly open border policies,” he wrote on Twitter. “They show the deadly consequences of his refusal to enforce the law.”