The Home Secretary said she wanted to stop families stuck in “desperate parts of the world” who are unwilling to put themselves in danger from being “elbowed aside” by young men who will pay people traffickers to smuggle them into the UK via lorries or small boats.
She also insisted that other European countries, including France, Germany, Italy and Belgium, had a “moral duty” to give sanctuary to migrants rather than allowing them to pass through to attempt illegal entry to Britain.
Ms Patel’s comments on Wednesday came as charities and opposition politicians lashed out over her plan to introduce a “two tier” asylum system as part of an overhaul being unveiled in Parliament today. Under the proposals, migrants brought in from overseas via official schemes will be given an immediate permanent right to remain in Britain.
But those who enter unlawfully will be stripped of the right to benefits and be held in reception centres while their claims are assessed. Even if their application succeeds, they will only be given a temporary right to stay and face regular reassessments to determine if it has become possible to remove them.
The aim is to deter migrants from travelling to the Channel to attempt illegal crossings organised by people traffickers and follows a surge in small boat crossings last year.
Attacking the changes today, Labour’s shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds accused Ms Patel of trying to deflect attention from the Government’s “failure” to run an effective asylum system. He warned that her plans do “next to nothing” to stop gangs and Channel crossings and “may even withdraw support for desperate people”.
But Ms Patel said changes to the “broken” asylum system were essential. She added: “We want to create schemes where we can bring women, children, families who are in squalid, appalling camps…who are being elbowed out of the way by young men who are coming over.”
Ms Patel insisted that her proposals were in line with international law and urged other countries to do more.
“This is not just about the UK,” she told the BBC’s Today. “It is about all countries around the world stepping up and taking responsibility to deal with asylum in the right way. They have a moral duty to save lives and to stop people being trafficked.”
Other proposed changes include measures to stop repeated appeals by failed asylum seekers which ministers argue are helping to clog the system.
Home Secretary Priti Patel told the Commons “we are now addressing the challenge of illegal migration head-on” as she introduced “the most significant overhaul of our asylum system in decades.”