New proposals to reform the asylum system in the UK have been branded as “absolutely abhorrent”.
It comes as UK ministers bring forward the Nationality and Borders Bill at Westminster in a shake up of immigration laws.
The Bill would make it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK without permission, with the maximum sentence for those entering the country unlawfully rising from six months’ imprisonment to four years.
Among other measures, it would also broaden the offence of arriving unlawfully so that it encompasses arrival, as well as entry into the UK.
The move is designed to allow those who are intercepted in UK territorial seas to be brought into the country to be prosecuted.
Efforts will also be stepped up to remove people entering the UK illegally having travelled through a safe country in which they “could and should have” claimed asylum, according to the Home Office.
The SNP’s home affairs spokesman Stuart McDonald described “a dark day”, whilst warning of the harm that could be caused by the Bill.
“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,” said McDonald.
“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.
“It’s clear beyond any doubt that the only way to build a fairer and more equal society, with a migration system that puts compassion and fairness at its core, is to become an independent country.”
Gary Christie, from the Scottish Refugee Council, criticised the move to criminalise those with a right to seek protection in the UK.
“The UK Government’s Nationality and Borders Bill present the biggest threat to refugee rights we have seen in the UK for decades,” he said.
“The proposals have at their heart the dangerous concept that people’s need for protection should be judged by the way route people take to reach the UK, rather than the fear of persecution that forces them to flee.
“In criminalising those who have every right to seek our protection, this bill shamefully breaches the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and continues Boris Johnson’s Government’s flagrant disregard for international law.
“These are not the actions of a truly global Britain.”