Priti Patel’s immigration bill could make the RNLI criminals

An RNLI Lifeboat and Priti Patel
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Priti Patel’s controversial new immigration bill has thrown up a troubling possibility: that the Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s (RNLI) volunteers could spend life in prison for helping drowning refugees and asylum seekers.

The Nationality and Borders Bill

As The Canary previously reported:

The Nationality and Borders Bill [entered] parliament on 6 July. The Home Office said its reforms will make it harder for people who enter the UK ‘illegally’ to stay.

Patel said the new bill will change our “broken asylum system”, stopping gangs from facilitating illegal journeys to the UK. She added it will further streamline the removal of “those with no right to be here”.

You can read Jasmine Norden’s analysis of the bill here. As she wrote:

The proposals in this bill serve to harm refugees desperately in need of safety. They will make it harder for them to gain asylum and criminalise them for trying to escape danger.

And there’s one bit of the bill which is causing a fresh outcry.

Read on...

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Criminalising a charity

Richard Murphy tweeted that:

This seems to be a distinct possibility. As Colin Yeo wrote for freemovement, Patel is changing the law on helping asylum seekers getting into the UK. Previously, if a person “facilitates” this, it would only be illegal if it was for that person’s “gain”. But Patel wants to remove the word “gain”. So, as Yeo summed up:

While someone working for an organisation that “aims to assist asylum-seekers” cannot be charged with this offence, someone who works for a more general-purpose charity like the RNLI and who helps an asylum seeker enter the UK may, on the face of it, be criminalised by this change.

The bill is currently at an early stage in its passage through parliament. This means it’s not yet clear what the implications are for charities like RNLI. George Peretz QC explained:


Peretz offered some thoughts on why Patel’s department might target charities like RNLI:

More readings of the bill are still to come. However, the suggestion that the state could prosecute a charity whose sole purpose is saving lives on the water – for doing just that – is very troubling. The maximum sentence for this is life imprisonment.

“Profoundly shocking”

As Murphy wrote:

I have been a long time supporter of the RNLI… I am deeply shocked by this move… to find that saving the life of an asylum seeker is now to be criminalised is profoundly shocking. What sort of mentality is required to create such a possibility?

But as Daniel Sohege said on Twitter, who else could the Tories prosecute for rescuing drowning asylum seekers?

Writer Alex Tiffin thought maybe boat skippers:

The RNLI had already faced abuse from the far-right. Nigel Farage recently called it a “taxi service for illegal immigration”. The Daily Mail then ran a story on his claim. But the charity is not having it. It said in a statement on Twitter:

Our lifeboats operate under international maritime law, which states we are permitted and indeed obligated to enter the waters of other territories for search and rescue purposes.

Where we believe there is a risk to life at sea, we will always launch.

So, first Farage and now our far-right government are demonising refugees and asylum seekers so much they’re apparently willing to criminalise one of the most well-known charities in the country. When he was London mayor, Boris Johnson supported the RNLI. How the political wind changes.

Featured image via Ronnie Robertson – Flickr and Good Morning Britain – YouTube

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