TURNING migrants away while they are still at sea, offshore processing centres for refugees and enabling asylum seekers to be sent away from the UK while their claims are determined – all part of Priti Patel’s new Nationality and Borders Bill – were attacked today as “anti-refugee” legislation.

Under its provisions, Border Force officers would be empowered to turn away migrants before they hit land in the UK and would make it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK without permission – with the maximum sentence rising from six months’ to four years’ imprisonment The bill was introduced the Parliament yesterday and immediately came under attack, with the SNP describing the plans as “abhorrent”, and saying they would punish the vulnerable and refugees seeking safe haven.

According to the Refugee Council, “more than 9000 people who would be accepted as refugees under the current rules – meaning those confirmed to have fled war or persecution following rigorous official checks – would no longer be given safety in the UK”.

The SNP's Shadow Home Secretary, Stuart McDonald, 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 Scottish Refugee Council said the proposals presented the biggest threat to refugee rights in the UK for decades.

“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,” said Gary Christie, their head of policy.

“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.

“The UK Government has also made no firm commitments to creating further safe and legal routes for people seeking protection to reach the UK.

“The asylum system is under pressure. But this anti-refugee bill will not solve any of its real problems which have been caused not by the comparatively small number of people seeking asylum, but by decades of Home Office mismanagement.

“We urgently need to see reform to the asylum system which is based on fairness, humanity and efficiency, not these cruel, costly and reprehensible proposals.” The Bill means that, for the first time, how someone enters the UK – legally or “illegally” – will have an impact on how their asylum claim progresses and on their status here if that claim is successful.

Convicted people-smugglers could also face life behind bars, up from the current maximum tariff of 14 years, under the proposals.

Robina Qureshi, director of Positive Action in Housing (PAIH), described the legislation as “a xenophobic, anti-refugee bill that will cost misery to tens of thousands of people”.

She said: “The plans for the removal of asylum seekers to off shore asylum processing centres in the Ascension islands, disused ferries and abandoned oil rigs means men, women and children being left in limbo for years, out of sight and out of mind with no scope for embarrassing headlines.

“Human beings will be judged by how they entered the UK, rather than the dangers they face from countries they fled … The broken asylum system has nothing to do with asylum seekers and everything to do with years of neglect by ministers of Home Office systems and processes.

“Refugees are the mere scapegoat for Patel’s political ambitions. This looks more like a case of dog whistle politics.

“The Home Secretary wants to look ‘tough’ on immigrants and refugees and is ready to compromise with humans rights for that.”