Published: 14:26, 02 March 2021
| Updated: 15:24, 02 March 2021
Refugee groups have criticised reports that the government is planning life sentences for people traffickers, saying it will not do anything to curb those trying to reach the UK.
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Home Secretary Priti Patel is considering tougher penalties because the current punishments are not deterring organised gangs from smuggling would-be migrants to the UK.
It follows a rise in the number of boats and dinghies arriving on Kent’s shores in recent days.
Under current sentencing guidelines, courts can impose sentences up to 14 years but the average is three years.
Bridget Chapman of the Kent Refugees Action Network said it would do little to stop people crossing the channel.
She said: “I think this is another one of Patel's ideas that sounds tough but never amounts to anything. But what I would say to her is: 'okay, what then?'
"Because we could have stricter sentences for trafficking but people will still come and we'll end up with a greater prison population. We need to find a different way of looking at this as people aren't going to stop coming.
“Contrary to popular belief, they're not huge numbers and they are numbers that we can deal with, we need to work out a way of doing it fairly so that people can apply for asylum from outside of the UK.
“I think something that people don't understand is there is no way to apply for asylum in the UK from outside of the UK, you have to physically be present in the country to apply for asylum.
"So people end up taking journeys across the channel in boats or hiding away in lorries, and that clearly is not ideal for us or for them.
"And if there was a way of people making that application from outside the UK, that would stop the people smugglers business overnight and would essentially solve the problem of people trafficking and I think that's something that we all want to do.”
She also said social media companies like Twitter should be more pro-active in blocking accounts where claims made about asylum seekers were false.
Nigel Farage, former Ukip leader, posted a tweet at the weekend, wrongly claiming that 12 adults in one boat picked up at Dover had tested positive for the coronavirus.
The Home Office took the unusual step of responding to say that only one of those picked up by border officials had tested positive.
“It's not for me to decide, but I think that all social media companies need to be working with governments to introduce legislation, so that when people are repeatedly spreading fake news, there’s an argument for them to lose that platform,” added Ms Chapman.