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Over the course of August 2020, media coverage of Channel crossings has increased significantly, drawing attention to the plight of those seeking refuge in the UK. In response to the number of crossings, Ministers have proposed measures aimed at making the route “unviable” and restricting the ability of asylum-seekers to exercise their legal right to apply for asylum in the UK.

The government has instructed the use of the Navy and of RAF planes to carry out surveillance and rescue in the Channel. While we do not object to the use of the Navy to conduct search and rescue missions, it is vital that the Navy is not used to interfere in the asylum process and are not asked to breach international refugee or maritime law by ‘pushing back’ boats seeking to reach our shores. The deployment is a temporary and costly fix which will not decrease the risk of dangerous crossings.

Over the last 5 years, civil society has warned that attempts to make the route “unviable,” including the closure of refugee camps in Calais and increasingly restricted routes of entry to the UK, would lead to an increase in dangerous journeys and an increased reliance on traffickers and people smugglers. In 2019, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee warned that “a policy that focuses exclusively on closing borders will drive migrants to take more dangerous routes, and push them into the hands of criminal groups." We are disappointed that the UK Government is continuing to pursue this failed approach despite copious evidence, and despite advice presented by the Select Committee and a host of civil society organisations. 

We note that this pattern of ignoring expert advice, failing to engage with civil society and branding migrants as “criminal” regardless of their legal rights is the same set of conditions which led to the Windrush scandal. A key recommendation from the Windrush Lessons Learned Review urged government to implement policies based on evidence and transparent decision-making. 

It is clear that there are far more pragmatic solutions which would allow the Government to bring an end to dangerous crossings, whilst also protecting the rights of those seeking asylum.

Safe Routes of Entry

For almost all people fleeing desperate circumstances, hoping to reunite with family members in the UK or seeking security and a better life in the UK, there is simply no application form that exists and no process that can facilitate a safe, regulated journey. The Home Office expects people to physically reach the UK before an asylum application can be lodged.

This places many in an impossible situation, exacerbated by factors including a lack of access to support services, severe delays in processing, heavily militarised border controls, and restrictive asylum processes. Many of those who do eventually get to the UK are granted the legal right to status.

15-year-old Abdullah Dilsouz was playing cricket with other child refugees in the wasteland behind the port of Calais. Friends said he was excited to be nearing the end of a long journey from Afghanistan, and optimistic that he would soon be able to join his brother in London.

But with simply no legal way of entering the UK to claim asylum and join his brother, stagnating in dire conditions and sleeping rough in freezing cold weather, Abdullah was forced to take extreme action.

The 15-year-old was run over by a refrigeration truck on 22 December 2018 – one of three asylum-seekers to be killed on the roads outside the port at the end of the year.

The few routes that do exist are inadequate and highly restrictive:

  1. The Family Reunification Rules – This route allows children under 18 and spouses to join their parents or spouses in the UK, if that person has refugee status or humanitarian protection. This does not allow for children over 18 to join their parents, siblings to join other siblings, and excludes grandparents and other family members. Further, it does not apply if the person being joined in the UK previously held refugee status and has now gained British citizenship. Nor does it give a right to parents outside the UK to join their refugee children under the age of 18 in the UK.
  2. Syrian Resettlement Programme – Launched in 2015 in conjunction with the UN, the scheme aims to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees in the UK by 2020. The Government appears on track to reach its commitment and has recently announced a Global Resettlement Scheme, which will aim to resettle people outside of Syria at the same rate. However, the scheme in its current form is extremely limited and has been suspended since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020. Globally there are 25.4 million refugees seeking sanctuary, and this scheme only allows safe entry for less than 0.02% of them. 

These routes are not only extremely limited, but are often further restricted by poor implementation and practice from the Home Office.

In addition, the Government has not yet set out its plans for European collaboration on the Dublin agreement once the Brexit transition period ends in 2021. The Dublin agreement currently allows for quick access to asylum procedures and the examination of an application by a single, clearly determined Member State.

The Government must reconsider existing policies related to border control and border enforcement, and must create safe and legal routes of entry to the UK to help ensure that people are not forced to make dangerous journeys in order to reach the UK.  The Government must also implement the recommendations from the Windrush Lessons Learned Review to ensure that policy-making processes in the Home Office are transparent, evidence-based and carried out in consultation with civil society.

Policy Recommendations

  1. Champion a new, Europe-wide system for collaboration and cooperation on asylum management.
  2. Undertake to alleviate pressure on states such as Greece and Italy through the relocation of up to 10,000 seekers of asylum.
  3. Work with French authorities to establish a joint task force to process all asylum claimants currently homeless in northern France.
  4. Guarantee safe passage for all children and those adults with a right to enter the UK currently living in northern France.
  5. Extend the Global Resettlement Scheme to include refugee-producing countries.
  6. Reinstate Section 67 Leave – also known as the Dubs agreement – to ensure that unaccompanied separated refugee children in Europe can be reunited with family members here in the UK.
  7. Introduce a system of humanitarian visas so that those applying for asylum from overseas are allowed a safe and legal route of entry into the UK.
  8. Establish firewalls that prevent the police, the NHS, worker protection agencies, social services and other public services from sharing information with immigration enforcement, so that victims of trafficking may come forward without fear of immigration sanctions.
  9. Extend the current definition of “family” under the Refugee Family Reunion rules and include family reunion for refugees seeking to join British resident non-refugees.
  10. End Government funding to 3rd countries to push back refugees and migrants, hold them, or otherwise increase danger on routes.
  11. Commit to process, fairly and efficiently, all asylum claims made on UK soil.
  12. Cease participation in the Khartoum and Rabat Processes and ensure that all bilateral or multilateral agreements include clear, robust safeguards for human rights.
  13. Invest diplomatic resources in the development and ratification of a truly effective, progressive Global Compact for migration.