Last summer, there was a media frenzy over a small number of people making desperate journeys across the Channel to seek asylum in the UK. There were so many awful inaccuracies and myths about the people making the journey. This guide answers some of the claims and inaccuracies we commonly encounter. 

You can also find a bite-sized, shareable version of this information here.

Photo credit: Mathieu Willcocks / Migrant Offshore Aid Station

Claim: people crossing the Channel are not refugees – they are illegal immigrants / economic migrants.  

Reality: The people making these crossings include pregnant women, families with children, and children who have absolutely no one with them. No one risks their life in a dangerous journey like this unless they have no other choice.

Most of them come from places like Syria, Libya and Iran where they are fleeing war and persecution, and are trying to join family in the UK. We know from reports that many of them will have been held at gunpoint and knifepoint by traffickers, and in some cases will have had no choice at all over their destination.

It is for decision makers at the Home Office to hear each individual’s case and make an assessment that isn’t based on bias and assumptions. That’s the reason we have an asylum system. But the UK Government does not accept applications for asylum from outside the country. That means, for people to have their case heard they have to get here first – forcing people to take these incredibly dangerous journeys.

Claim: Europe is safe. People should claim asylum in the first safe country they arrive in.

Reality: Firstly, the proportion of people coming to the UK to seek asylum is actually very small. France, Germany and Greece all accept far higher numbers of asylum applicants than the UK does. In fact France received 3 times as many asylum claims as the UK did last year.

For many, many people, reaching Europe does not mean safety. We’ve heard recently for example that Greece took 1,000 recently-arrived migrants out to sea and abandoned them. French police have repeatedly subjected migrants to beatings, tear gas and intimidation. These people are in many ways victims of a broken system. 

It is a commonly-repeated myth that asylum seekers must claim protection in the first safe country they reach – but it is simply untrue. Under international law, we each have the right to claim asylum, to do this in any country, and to get a fair hearing from that country. Many people wrongly believe the Dublin regulations require people to claim asylum in the first EU country they reach – again, this simply is not the case. The Dublin regulation sets out a process for EU member states to administer applications - this has no bearing on an individual’s right to claim asylum.

Claim: The French Government should do more to prevent people making these dangerous journeys.

People have every right to come to the UK and make an asylum claim here – it’s up to decision-makers to judge these applications on a case-by-case basis. Those majority of those who do travel across the Channel this way to claim asylum are eventually given refugee status because they come from places like Syria, Libya and Iran. And these are small numbers - France received 3 times as many asylum claims as the UK did last year.

The problem is that our system says you can only claim asylum in the UK if you are inside the country. That forces desperate people into making dangerous journeys to seek refuge here.

For years, the UK government has abdicated responsibility, trying to push the blame on to other countries – particularly France – spending millions on wire fencing and denying people their rights by demolishing campsites, and attempting to make the route “unviable”. The government has been told time and time again by grassroots organisations, the French authorities, and migrants themselves, that this strategy will only result in more deaths and will push people further into the hands of people smugglers.

Claim: It is the smugglers / traffickers who are to blame for encouraging people to make dangerous journeys.

The lack of safe, legal ways for people to enter the UK leaves them with only a few, extremely dangerous, options. No one wants to get into a dinghy to attempt a 21 mile journey through the busiest shipping lane in the world. Traffickers take advantage of the desperation people face and exploit the lack of options. If Priti Patel is serious about tackling exploitation and trafficking, she will look at the evidence and start behaving pragmatically and sensibly - by putting in place measures like opening a claim centre in France, and introducing humanitarian visas so that people can travel here safely to apply for asylum. The solutions exist, proven to work, and they are simple. 

Increasing border security or shifting responsibility on to the French authorities simply will not solve the problem – it will only push people into even more dangerous routes and lead to tragedies like the deaths of the 39 Vietnamese migrants on a lorry in Essex.

Our explainer on Priti Patel's 'new plan' for the immigration system