In an equality impact assessment for the Nationality and Borders Bill, published on Thursday, the department also states that the reforms carry “significant scope for indirect discrimination” and “potential for direct discrimination on the basis of race”.
But it repeatedly states that any discrimination would be “objectively justified” as a “proportionate means” of achieving the policy objectives of the plans, namely to “deter illegal entry into the UK”.
The government’s New Plan for Immigration, which the Home Office hopes to implement through the Bill - which is currently going through parliament - seeks to “rapidly remove” asylum seekers who arrive in the UK via unauthorised routes, and grant them only temporary protection, with limited rights if it cannot immediately do so.
The impact assessment, which the department says will “ensure that equalities are considered at an early stage to inform decision making in relation to policies and operations”, acknowledges that “increased security and deterrence” could “encourage” these asylum seekers to “attempt riskier means of entering the UK”.
It goes on to state: “However, deploying these measures does advance the legitimate aim of encouraging asylum seekers to claim in the first safe country they reach and not undertaking dangerous journeys facilitated by smugglers to get to the UK, though evidence supporting the effectiveness of this approach is limited.”
The document also acknowledges that there is “significant scope for indirect discrimination” in the Bill, which it describes as being where a “particular protected group is put at a disadvantage and that disadvantage is not a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”.
In a section on race, it states that there is “limited potential for direct discrimination on the basis of race (nationality)”, before adding: “We will be relying on the limited exceptions that exist in the 2010 Act, which permit direct discrimination on grounds of race, where that is authorised by a minister or by legislation.”
The department also raises a concern that campaigners have raised about a lack of safe and legal routes to the UK for those who would otherwise be penalised for crossing the Channel, stating that there “may be circumstances where someone faces immediate danger in their country of origin but is not eligible for our refugee resettlement programmes”.
It goes on to state that the home secretary “may consider such cases, by virtue of their challenging circumstances, to merit the use of discretion to allow individuals to come to the UK” - though it is not clear through which mechanism this could take place.
The Home Office claims at the end of the document that the plans will “advance equality of opportunity” for those seeking asylum, “in that they may be persuaded not to take these risks”.
It comes after it emerged last week that Priti Patel had ordered officials to rewrite the UK’s interpretation of maritime laws to allow Border Force to turn small boats around, as part of the new plans.
France subsequently warned the Channel could become a “theatre of human tragedies” as the country’s interior minister vowed to not cooperate with the controversial plan, sparking a major diplomatic row.
The Home Office has said that its New Plan for Immigration will “welcome people through safe and legal routes whilst preventing abuse of the system, cracking down on illegal entry and discouraging people from making dangerous and life-threatening Channel crossings”.
The plans have been widely criticised by NGOs and lawyers in the UK, as well as by the UNHCR, which warned that they would “damage lives” and undermine international cooperation on refugee issues.