'Inhuman to use 'pushback' against people in the English Channel'

A group of people, thought to be migrants, waiting on a Border Force rib to come ashore at Dover mar

A group of people waiting on a Border Force rib to come ashore at Dover after a small boat incident in the English Channel - Credit: PA

The plight of Afghan refugees has, quite rightly, elicited extraordinary compassion across this country. By contrast the Home Office, under Priti Patel, announced perhaps the most inhuman act of all this government’s many inhuman acts against innocent refugees.

Border Force, she said, will in future be using "pushbacks" against refugees at sea in the English Channel.

That means they will have the right to use their ships to force people in small boats and dinghies to turn back towards France. These small boats are overloaded with men, women and children, and not infrequently in danger of sinking.

Simply rescuing them can be risky; to use a large, powerful ship to force them backwards is catastrophically dangerous. Additionally there is a risk that, driven by utter desperation, these people might in be induced to jump in the sea.

Vivek Lehal, Haringey Stand-Up to Racism (HSTUR)

Vivek Lehal says that refugees should be allowed to claim asylum in the UK without endangering themselves - Credit: Archant

That is one of the reasons that pushbacks are not allowed by international maritime law. To hear that our government is planning to tell British Border Force officers to use tactics deemed illegal in many other countries is deeply shocking.

What these plans reveal is this government’s desperation over the situation in the Channel. The safe and sensible alternative is to provide a safe way that ordinary people, who are guilty of nothing other than being born in a conflict zone or dictatorship, can claim asylum in the UK without risking their lives.

The response to Afghan refugees in the last few weeks has shown us, in an overwhelming fashion, that when the British public see the reality of the horrors that force refugees to leave their homes, the outpouring of compassion and care is genuine and real.

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So what should be done? It is simple. That compassion and care should be reflected in a safe, modern system that allows refugees to claim asylum in the UK without endangering themselves.

The pushback strategy is inhuman and wrong but, perhaps worst of all, it is cynical distraction that uses people’s lives as a cheap political weapon.

It is time our government admitted that their policies are not working, and tried another way.

Vivek Lehal is from Haringey Stand Up To Racism.