Migrants in the English Channel

Channel Crossings in 2021 and the Future of Asylum in the UK

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In 2020, over 8400 migrants crossed the English Channel to seek refuge in the UK, four times more than the previous year. Overall there was actually a fall in the total number of people seeking asylum in the country but the issue arguably received much greater visibility in a year of national lockdowns.

This included some of the most dangerous journeys on dinghies and kayaks, with one crossing resulting in the death of a family of four Kurdish-Iranian migrants in August 2020, including two children aged five and eight. The tragic deaths caused an outcry, with the Border Force responding with more patrols along with RAF assistance.

Brexit and Increased Channel Crossings

The Brexit deadline forced these life-threatening crossings to increase since the start of 2020, as many were desperate to enter the UK before free movement ended on the 31st December 2020. Priti Patel asserted she would personally ensure channel crossings to the UK became an ‘infrequent phenomenon’ in the spring. Unsurprisingly, numbers of crossings continued rising and peaked months later, reaching 1950 in September and exceeding the total from 2019. 

The Home Secretary has since signed an agreement along with the French Interior Minister, Gerald Darmanin to prevent channel crossings. The deal agreed to on the 1st December 2020 stated that twice the number of officers will now patrol France’s coastline.

Unviable’ Crossing

The £28m agreement between the UK and France is part of the government’s aim to make the crossing an ‘unviable’ route for migrants, especially those claiming asylum. Repeatedly, the government has responded with increased militarisation and force to a humanitarian problem. The Immigration Minister, Chris Philp, has also discussed the Home Office’s actions, stating that the government is ‘doubling the number of police officers on the ground in France, increasing surveillance and introducing new cutting-edge technology to enhance our effort and stop these crossings for good.’

These measures have received backlash from various charities, including Detention Action, an organisation campaigning for an end to immigration detention and supporting those detained. The Director, Bella Sankey discussed how the Home Secretary’s actions are ‘one of failure and denial’. She also explained that if Priti Patel sought advice from people who understand immigration issues instead of ‘using her platform to attack them’, she could ‘reduce the chaos and start to deliver competent and compassionate policy-making instead.’

People are still desperately making the same journey across the channel, with one boat of ten people intercepted in Dover by Border Force patrol on Saturday 2nd January in -1C conditions. Asylum seekers were also rescued on New Year’s Day by both French and English Officials after attempting the perilous 21mile trip. 

Migrants intercepted by Border Force Officers in Dover [Image: Standard.co.uk]

The Dublin III Regulation and Immigration Rules

Now the Brexit transition period is over, the Dublin III Regulation no longer applies to the UK. Asylum seekers now cannot benefit from this legal route for transfers and family reunions that existed between EU states. However, the UK will also lose the right to return any asylum seekers who have travelled from countries within the European Union to those member states. 

 In the Statement of Changes to Immigration Rules, published on the 10th of December, regulations were added to make an asylum claim ‘inadmissable’ if ‘the applicant has been recognised as a refugee in a safe third country’. It goes on to also include circumstances where ‘an applicant could enjoy sufficient protection’ in that third country, even if they have not made an asylum application there.

The new rules also underline the ability of the Home Secretary to remove an applicant, not only to this ‘safe third country’ but also to ‘any other safe country that will permit their entry’. 

Currently, the Dublin Regulation has not been replaced with any similar agreements in UK law or agreements with the EU. These documents were not formally submitted or reviewed by the EU and the government opted against similar provisions to the Dublin Regulation.

Dublin regulations were originally designed to create a fair process for asylum seekers within the EU, and to prioritise reuniting family members. The regulations were more generous than the UK’s immigration rules. 

The UK will continue following the terms of the European Human Rights Act, so if they were to send any migrants away this could breach the conditions. Farage also discussed how the “whole trade agreement with the EU could be terminated” should such an event occur. The UN Geneva Convention on Refugees, set up in the aftermath of WWII genocides, still enshrines every person’s human and legal right to claim asylum due to a ‘well-founded fear of persecution’ in the country they have fled from.

A Dark Future?

The new rules propose a dark future for the undeniably broken asylum system that Priti Patel has made it her personal mission to ‘fix’. The onus is placed on the asylum seeker to prove themselves, already hard enough in the current asylum interview process causing most applications to be refused at first. This fans the flames of rhetoric claiming all people arriving on boats are ‘illegal migrants’, a statement both legally and factually untrue. It is not possible to travel through any legal and safe route to claim asylum in the UK and is impossible to make a claim outside of the country.

These new rules narrow the definition of an asylum seeker to such an extent by making them ‘inadmissable’, that they were never properly seeking asylum in the UK in the first place, at least in the eyes of the state. 

Even though the UK takes only a tiny percentage of asylum claims, tens of thousands are still waiting for a decision on their claim for over six months and 40,000 failed applicants are still in the country waiting for removal. The new immigration rules quietly put in place, with many more to follow under the points-based system, will only further exacerbate the faults in the system, not fix them.

[Header Image: Nytimes.com]