‘What you see in those camps is the human misery of people who are tied to criminal gangs and they need safe and legal routes‘
Starmer said the move would create the “safe and legal routes” needed for asylum seekers and should be combined with international action to crack down on people traffickers.
He branded the Rwanda plan “distraction tactics to stop everybody talking about the wrongdoing of the prime minister and the cost of living crisis”.
And he said: “I’ve been in those camps on the north coast of France and the desperate situation of people. I’ve seen children, the same age as my children, in tents in those camps, in the most awful circumstances.”
Starmer said the asylum seekers needed help to “understand where they do have rights to go to other countries” – including the right “to apply in France or somewhere else”.
“What you see in those camps is the human misery of people who are tied to criminal gangs and they need the support to help them go through safe and legal routes.”
Asked where UK applications should be made, he told the BBC: “You could do it along the route, but the best place would be the country nearest where they are fleeing from.”
He argued similar schemes have been set up in the past, adding: “We’ve set up schemes for Afghanistan.”
“I don’t accept the proposition that it’s simply not possible to have a better system or the one that we’ve got,” Starmer insisted.
The comments are an attempt to flesh out calls for “safe and legal routes” after Ms Patel claimed, wrongly, that no alternatives to her Rwanda plan have been put forward.
The home secretary has argued deportation can curb trafficking across the Channel, but her own top civil servant said there is no evidence to back it the argument.
The policy faces an inevitable challenge in the courts and has embroiled the prime minister in a damaging row with the Archbishop of Canterbury, who also condemned it.
Although it was initially briefed that only single men would be flown out, Ms Patel, the home secretary, has since admitted that women and children could also be sent.
She has also refused to reveal the likely colossal cost of the policy, beyond an initial £120m to be handed to Rwanda under the “partnership” deal.
In talks last year, France urged the UK to process asylum claims on its side of the Channel – to prevent attempts at the deadly crossing – but ministers argued it would increase the number of migrants.