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UK govt announces tech partnership to curb migrant arrivals

The British government on Saturday announced a new partnership between law enforcement and social media companies to crack down on online content encouraging migrants to arrive in the UK illegally using small boats.

The Conservative government, struggling in the polls a year before the general election, has promised to end dangerous cross-Channel journeys from northern France in small boats but experienced a number of setbacks in delivering its plans.

Plans to controversially send illegal migrants to Rwanda have become bogged down in the courts, while the housing of asylum seekers on a barge in southern England to reduce accommodation costs has experienced several delays.

The announced partnership between Britain’s National Crime Agency and companies including Meta, TikTok and X (former Twitter) will target content linked to people smuggling, such as offers of false documents, group discounts, free spaces for children and false claims of safe passage, Downing Street said.

“To stop the boats, we have to tackle the business model of vile people smugglers at source,” UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said.

“That means clamping down on their attempts to lure people into making these illegal crossings and profit from putting lives at risk.

“This new commitment from tech firms will see us redouble our efforts to fight back against these criminals, working together to shut down their vile trade,” he added.

But the main opposition Labour party’s home affairs spokeswoman, Yvette Cooper, said the action was “too little, too late”, accusing the government of having “no idea how to fix the mess they created”.

Immigration — both legal and illegal — has long been a key political issue in Britain and was one of the main battlegrounds of the Brexit referendum in 2016, which saw the country leave the European Union.

More than 45,000 migrants arrived on the shores of southeast England on small boats in 2022 — a 60-percent annual increase — on a perilous route that has been used by more people every year since 2018.

Sunak’s government last month passed a controversial law, criticised by the United Nations, barring asylum claims by anyone arriving via the Channel and other “illegal” routes.