'Enough is enough': UK PM announces crackdown on illegal immigration
By Andrew MacAskill and Sarah Young
LONDON (Reuters) -Britain on Tuesday said it planned to bring in new legislation to prevent migrants who cross the English Channel from remaining in the country, as the government tries to control a surge in people arriving in small boats on its southern coast.
The number of people arriving in England across the Channel has more than doubled in the last two years, with government figures showing Albanians account for the highest number of people arriving by this route.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a new five-point strategy for dealing with illegal immigration, including plans to fast-track the return of Albanian asylum seekers, and clearing the initial backlog of almost 150,000 asylum cases by the end of next year by doubling the number of caseworkers.
"If you enter the UK illegally you should not be able to remain here," Sunak told parliament. "Instead, you will be detained and swiftly returned either to your home country or to a safe country where your asylum claim will be considered."
Migrants arriving on small boats has become a major political issue for the Conservative government, particularly in working-class areas in the north and central England, where migrants are blamed for making it harder to find work and stretching public services.
Sunak said a new unit would be created to tackle crossings, and that in future migrants would be housed in disused holiday parks, former student accommodation and surplus military sites rather than hotels.
Britain's interior minister, Home Secretary Suella Braverman, recently called the wave of arrivals an "invasion" and described many of the migrants as "criminals", leading to an angry response from Albanian prime minister Edi Rama.
Sunak said that over the coming months thousands of Albanians would be returned home.
'RIGHT TO BE ANGRY'
Successive British governments have promised to stop the arrival of small boats. Despite that, a record 44,867 people have crossed the Channel on small boats to enter Britain this year.
Concerns over the level of immigration were a driving force the vote for Brexit in a 2016 referendum, with supporters calling for Britain to "take back control" of its borders.
Sunak said the public are "right to be angry" and said the current system was unfair on those with a genuine case for asylum.
"It is not cruel or unkind to want to break the stranglehold of criminal gangs who trade in human misery," he said. "Enough is enough."
The announcement was strongly welcomed by most Conservative members of parliament, who fear they will face defeat at the next election if the government fails to resolve the issue.
Some Conservative lawmakers, like the former minister Simon Clarke, wanted the government to go further and consider leaving the European Convention on Human Rights next year to make it easier to design new policies if the government's latest strategy failed to deter the crossings.
Opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer said the last time the government changed the immigration system they made it worse, while some charities said the problem would continue until the government allowed asylum claims outside Britain.
Britain's government earlier this year announced plans to deport migrants to Rwanda alongside other efforts, hoping it would act as a deterrent to those arriving in small boats.
The policy was the subject of a legal challenge in London's High Court in early September when a coalition of human rights groups and a trade union argued the Rwanda policy was unworkable and unethical. A decision is expected on Monday.
Sunak said the government would be restarting flights to Rwanda and announced parliament would be asked to set quotas for how many can be admitted for humanitarian reasons.
Although Britain's asylum system is often slow to process claims, about two-thirds of small-boat arrivals whose cases have been examined have been found to be genuine refugees.
(Reporting by Andrew MacAskill, Sarah Young, Paul Sandle and Kylie MacLellan; Editing by Alex Richardson)