The Government’s Nationality and Borders Bill was introduced to Parliament on Tuesday and also contains provisions to set up offshore processing centres and allow asylum seekers to be sent away from the UK while their claims are determined.
Dubbed the “anti-refugee Bill” by campaigners intends to make it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK without permission.
This would see a maximum sentence handed out to those entering the country unlawfully rising from six months’ imprisonment to four years.
The SNP s Shadow Home Secretary Stuart McDonald MP claimed the bill represented a “dark day” for the country.
He said: “The Tory government’s Nationality and Borders Bill is absolutely abhorrent – a dark day that sees the UK ripping up the Refugee Convention and trashing its previous history of providing a place of refuge.
“The warnings could not be clearer – vulnerable people and refugees seeking safety will now be treated as criminals, cruelly turned back, and even sent to offshore detention facilities.
“Refugees will be faced with insecurity, poverty and split apart from their families like never before. Rather than recognising the real harm this Bill will inflict, the Tory government is instead living up to its nasty party tag.”
The CEO of the Refugee Council Enver Solomon has criticised the plans.
He said: “For decades ordinary people have taken extraordinary measures to flee oppression — from those escaping ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, torture in Zimbabwe or war in Syria — having to make dangerous journeys to reach safety in the UK. They have gone on to become law abiding citizens playing by the rules and paying their taxes as proud Britons.
“Today this government is cruelly choosing to not only turn away those in need of safety but also treat them as criminals.
“This anti-refugee Bill will drive an already inefficient and ineffective system into disarray with even worse delays and far greater expense.
“We need a system that gives everyone a fair hearing, protects those who need protecting and enables those to return who don’t. Competence, compassion and control are needed instead of cruelty, cold-heartedness and ineptitude.”
The Home Office has insisted the reforms are necessary, with the number people attempting to come to the UK across the Channel last year reaching a record high.
Convicted people-smugglers could also face life behind bars, up from the current maximum tariff of 14 years, under the proposals.
According to the papers setting out the proposals of the Bill, Border Force would be given the power to intervene at sea to tackle people-smugglers and turn migrant boats away from the UK but they would need the agreement of other states, like France, to drive them back into foreign waters.
The documents also suggest officers may be able to use “reasonable force, if necessary”.
The Home Office has insisted the most “radical” changes in decades will “prioritise those most in need of protection while stopping the abuse of the system”.