migrant boat intercepted by UK border control

Asylum Seekers Intercepted During COVID-19 Pandemic

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Boats Carrying Asylum Seekers Intercepted During Bank Holiday in the UK

Over the bank holiday weekend, around 140 boats carrying asylum seekers and migrants were intercepted in the English Channel.

A spike in the number of those attempting to undertake the precarious crossing from France to the UK reinforces what charities and activists across the UK have been urging the government to recognise since the global outbreak of COVID-19; that the pandemic will see an increase in those fleeing life-threatening environments in the likes of France and Greece. 

The outbreak of the Coronavirus across refugee camps has already had devastating repercussions, as those who are forced to make shelter in such overcrowded areas have inevitably faced increased exposure to the disease. It is unsurprising that so many are risking their lives to flee refugee camps in a desperate bid to avoid the disease, with social distancing an impossible luxury. 

Home Office Continues to Criminalise Asylum Seekers

Home Secretary Priti Patel is yet to relax the UK’s stringent border control and the government’s hostile approach to those entering the country ‘illegally’ – despite it being recognised under the UN Refugee Convention that people cannot be penalised for entering a country illegally to claim asylum. 

More than 227 individuals were picked up by authorities over two days during the weekend. Charities are urging the government to extend compassion to those who are undertaking dangerous routes to the UK to find safety, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Speaking to the BBC, Claire Moseley from refugee crisis charity Care4Calais described how the Coronavirus has “made a bad situation life-threateningly worse” and explains that, asylum seekers “aim for the UK because they want to be safe. Many have family or other connections, and others know our language and want to integrate and contribute”.

asylum seekers boat intercepted by UK border control
Boats carrying asylum seekers were intercepted in the English Channel during the bank holiday weekend. [Image: Reuters/BBC]

Despite this, minister for immigration compliance, Chris Philp, has stated that the government is “stepping up action to stop the crossings, going after the criminals perpetrating these heinous crimes and prosecuting them for their criminal activity”.

Charities are urging the government to extend compassion to those who are undertaking dangerous routes to the UK to find safety

This has once again prompted a much needed conversation regarding the UK’s approach to asylum seekers and how it insists on criminalising them at all costs – even in the midst of a pandemic.

Preventing crossings and ramping up border security not only fails to deter asylum seekers from attempting to reach the UK, it also increases the risk to their lives as they resort to exploitative measures such as human traffickers who aim to smuggle them into the country no matter how life-threatening the conditions.

This is an argument that has been put to the Home Office time and time again, yet now more than ever – with the suffering of asylum seekers exacerbated due to the Coronavirus – the government cannot disregard this fact.

We need to see an immediate shift in the government’s treatment of asylum seekers, who are some of the most vulnerable individuals simply trying to ensure the survival of both themselves and their families. The Coronavirus is wreaking havoc across the globe but – as has become well established by this point – we do not all feel the wrath of this pandemic to the same extent.

To ensure the most vulnerable do not continue to fall through the cracks, the government ought to reconsider its tough stance on international border crossings into the UK.

We need to see an immediate shift in the government’s treatment of asylum seekers

It is highly disingenuous and frankly malicious for the government to continue with its labelling of asylum seekers as ‘illegal immigrants’ particularly during the current crisis, as it is aware of the impact this has on public perception.

From the demands for greater financial support for asylum seekers currently residing in the UK to the need for safe passages for those attempting to reach the country, the UK government must reevaluate its heartless mishandling of those who need our help the most.

Written by
Holly Barrow