The government has boasted of its plans to “deter illegal immigration”, sparking a furious backlash as Ukrainians seek refuge amid a deadly war with Russia.
In a tweet, the Home Office announced that the controversial Borders Bill has passed eight of 12 stages before it becomes British law.
Tweeting under a banner proclaiming that “the UK stands with Ukraine”, the Home Office said: “Fixing the UK’s broken asylum system involves major reforms, but we are making good progress.
“Tomorrow our firm but fair #BordersBill reaches the report stage in the UK House of Lords. This is how it will deter illegal migration.”
The post directs people to the government website, where the Home Office promises the new law will “introduce new and tougher criminal offences for those attempting to enter the UK illegally”.
The website says the government would raise the penalty for “illegal entry” from six months’ to four years’ imprisonment and introduce “life sentences for people smugglers”.
It then goes on to say the UK “may remove people including criminals” to a safe third country where the asylum seekers could have claimed asylum.
But it insists “we stand by our moral and legal obligations to help innocent people fleeing cruelty from around the world.”
The announcement is “bad immigration policy and even worse timing,” according to migrant rights campaigner Alexandra Bulat.
“Yes, today’s exactly the day you want to tweet out a big graphic about how you’re making it harder for people fleeing wars to claim asylum in the UK, you hollow-chested ghouls,” comedy writer Nathaniel Tapley added.
Green Party London Assembly Member Zack Polanski said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “should end the Conservatives’ awful Borders Bill once and for all.”
He said: “It was totally unacceptable to demonise refugees this time last week. And do the British public really want to give Ukrainians another kick despite seeing hourly updated of their trauma?”
Policy expert Pauline Castres sarcastically repeated the government’s “firm but fair”’ claim: “We’re talking about a Bill that would criminalise asylum seekers who arrive in the UK without a visa – if they have passed through another safe country along the way. Like many Ukrainians who are currently seeking sanctuary.”
Human rights advocate Pinar Aksu slammed the government’s move as a “great violation of Human Rights and international protection”.
One Twitter user talked against using UK taxpayers’ money “to promote legislation breaking international law.”
And another said the Bill is “anything but fair”. “And by ‘firm’, they mean making things many of us think are fair illegal. If the Ukraine situation has had you questioning immigration policy, learn more about this and write to your MP.”
Related: UK’s ‘unacceptable’ visa offer to fleeing Ukrainians slammed