LEICESTER, United Kingdom – A leading Catholic charity says the British government’s plan to ban migrants who arrive without authorization by crossing the English Channel in small boats is “unworkable” and “not a rational response to those seeking asylum on our shores.”

Under the Illegal Migration Bill, those who cross the Channel would be removed from the country and banned from entering the UK in the future.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak defended the tightening of penalties against Channel migrants.

“Illegal migration is not fair on British taxpayers, it is not fair on those who come here legally and it is not right that criminal gangs should be allowed to continue their immoral trade,” he told the Mail on Sunday.

‘I am determined to deliver on my promise to stop the boats. So make no mistake, if you come here illegally, you will not be able to stay,” Sunak said.

Sarah Teather, The Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service UK, said the proposed legislation is the latest measure aiming to punish refugees for the realities of being forcibly displaced.

“Refugees travel however they can and there are vanishingly few formal routes for them. To deny sanctuary to people who need it based on their mode of arrival is grotesquely cruel and cravenly dishonest,” she said in a statement.

“Furthermore, these proposals are unworkable and are not a rational response to those seeking asylum on our shores. A more productive approach would be to create safe, accessible routes whilst embedding a culture of protection in our asylum system,” Teather continued.

Teather served as a member of the UK Parliament from 2003-2015 and was Minister of State for Children and Families from 2010-2012.

During her time in government Teather led the negotiations to stop the detention of children in the immigration system, and later chaired a parliamentary group focused on support for refugees, including the issue of detention.

“As the former coalition Children and Families Minister I’m particularly appalled by the reported plans to begin wholesale detention of children. Once upon a time the Conservative Party recognized that this policy inflicted long term damage on young lives and vowed to stop the practice. If this commitment is abandoned now for headlines, it will mark a dark day indeed,” she said.

According to the BBC, 45,756 migrants crossed the English Channel to Britain in small boats in 2022.

According to the Refugee Council, out of all those who crossed the Channel last year, two-thirds would be granted asylum.

“Half (48 percent) were from Afghanistan, Iran, Eritrea, Sudan or Syrian. Applications from all those countries are granted in at least 80 percent of cases and for three – Afghanistan Eritrea and Syria – it is 98 percent,” the charity said.

“Most of those crossing the Channel are people fleeing war-torn or oppressive countries where no safe and formal routes such as refugee visas exist for making an asylum claim in the UK,” the Council said.

The Refugee Council said safe routes for the main nationalities crossing the channel have been drastically reduced – noting  that resettlement numbers are 75 percent lower than in 2019 and the number of family reunion visas issued is 40 per cent below the pre-pandemic level.

Enver Solomon, the CEO Refugee Council, said the government’s plans “shatter the UK’s long-standing commitment under the UN Convention to give people a fair hearing regardless of the path they have taken to reach our shores. They will simply add more cost and chaos to the system.”

He claimed the majority of the men, women and children who cross the Channel do so because they are desperate to escape war, conflict and persecution.

“The Government’s flawed legislation will not stop the boats but result in tens of thousands locked up in detention at huge cost, permanently in limbo and being treated as criminals simply for seeking refuge. It’s unworkable, costly and won’t stop the boats,” he said.

“It is not a crime to seek safety. No parent sends a child on a desperately dangerous journey without good reason. We need a sensible and humane plan that focuses on compassion and competence creating safe and orderly routes for refugees to reach the UK, such as refugee visas, a fair asylum system with timely decision making and a workable agreement with our European partners to share responsibility for all those who want sanctuary in the region,” Solomon said.

The government has given no timeline for when it expects the new legislation to be passed by Parliament.

Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome