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Pushback policy for asylum seekers crossing the Channel is abandoned

The government has reportedly backtracked on plans to turn boats carrying asylum seekers around in the Channel.

The controversial pushback policy had been condemned by charities and unions who said it would put the lives of those fleeing persecution at risk.

Thousands of people make the crossing on small boats in the Channel
Thousands of people make the crossing on small boats in the Channel

The move would have seen Border Force officials and the Navy stop vessels carrying asylum seekers in UK waters and forcibly redirect them to return to France.

But now, the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) says plans for pushbacks have been withdrawn, just over a week before a judicial review on the matter, brought by four organisations, was due to be heard in the High Court.

The four organisations - PCS, Care4Calais, Channel Rescue and Freedom from Torture - had been granted permission by the court to challenge the Home Office's policy, with the applications set down for a three day hearing on May 3.

Following correspondence from the government's legal department late last night, in which PCS says the Home Office confirmed it has withdrawn the policy, the judicial review claims have now been withdrawn.

PCS claims the government's legal department outlined in a letter that the policy and procedures which are the subject of the ongoing litigation are withdrawn and that the Ministry of Defence joint commander who is taking over Channel operations has not had permission to authorise the use of turnaround tactics.

It also said that if a decision were taken to use turnaround tactics in the future, it would only be after a full consideration of all relevant matters, PCS says.

PCS general secretary, Mark Serwotka said: "This humiliating climbdown by the government is a stunning victory for Home Office workers and for refugees.

"PCS is proud to have brought this legal action alongside refugee groups in order to prevent this morally reprehensible and utterly inhumane proposal from ever seeing the light of day.

"There is little doubt that lives have been saved.

"The pushbacks manoeuvre is extremely dangerous and represents a clear risk to life and limb. We were simply not prepared to allow our members to be placed in this horrendous position.

"PCS reiterates our call for the government to abandon their dangerous and reckless approach to asylum and immigration; and to negotiate with us on a humane process that allows for safe passage and protects both our members and refugees."

It comes as the government revealed further plans to detain and fly asylum seekers more than 4,000 miles away on chartered planes to Africa.

Boris Johnson unveiled the proposal during a visit to Kent last week.

An initial £120 million is expected to be given to the Rwandan government under a trial scheme, with Home Secretary Priti Patel striking a deal during a visit to the capital of Kigali.

The Royal Navy pictured in Dover dealing with asylum seekers after Boris Johnson handed over control of the asylum crisis to the navy. Picture: UKNIP
The Royal Navy pictured in Dover dealing with asylum seekers after Boris Johnson handed over control of the asylum crisis to the navy. Picture: UKNIP

The number of people who can be relocated will be “unlimited”, with the first due to receive formal notifications within weeks, and the first flights expected to take place in the coming months.

Mr Johnson said the agreement is “uncapped” and Rwanda will have the “capacity to resettle tens of thousands of people in the years ahead”, including those who have arrived “illegally” since the start of the year.

He also pledged £50 million in new funding for boats, aerial surveillance and military personnel to help ensure the measures are a “very considerable deterrent” to crossings.

The Prime Minister also explained the Royal Navy would take over command from Border Force in the Channel to "ensure no boat makes it to the UK undetected".

In March this year, 3,066 people made the crossing - a figure which is almost four times the amount recorded for the same month in 2021 and more than 16 times the amount for 2020.

In November, 27 people - including children as young as five - died while making the treacherous journey.

A spokesman from the Home Office confirmed that the "policy subject to the ongoing litigation has been withdrawn, meaning turnaround tactics are not currently in use".

They added: "Similar tactics may be deployed in the future, however these would only be used after full consideration of all relevant factors, including the current small boats threat. New policies, guidance and operational procedures would need to be formulated at that point."

The spokesman added: "The entire Government is united in our efforts to prevent these lethal crossings and break the business model of the criminal gangs exploiting people.

“It is right that we consider all safe and legal options to stop these unnecessary journeys, including turning boats around.

“As we have set out previously, this tactic fully complies with both domestic and international law, however, there are extremely limited circumstances when you can safely turn boats back in the English Channel.”

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