Stopping dangerous Channel crossings: what experts and campaigners say

Analysis: From overhauling the asylum system to simply taking what refugees say seriously, some ideas to stop the small boats

Amid a rising number of small boats crossing the Channel, culminating in tragedy on Wednesday, campaigners and experts have proposed a number of possible solutions to curb the dangerous journeys:

Take refugees’ claims seriously

The government stands accused of misunderstanding the reasons behind the current crisis. The home secretary, Priti Patel, has claimed that 70% of people crossing in small boats are economic migrants, a claim disputed by the Refugee Council in new research. Undocumented economic migrants do not generally deliver themselves into the hands of Home Office officials as soon as they reach UK soil.

A recent high court case about support payments to asylum seekers in hotels revealed that Patel and the then immigration minister Chris Philp rejected recommendations from officials to make payments of £12.11 a week to asylum seekers in hotels for essential living needs because they did “not want to further increase any possible pull factors”. Asylum seekers insist they are not travelling to the UK in order to receive these modest payments.

Critics say it is hard to identify solutions if the nature of the problem is misunderstood.

Work with other peaceful nations to try to resolve or mitigate global conflicts

The gold-standard solution to halting refugees crossing the Channel in small boats is to end global conflicts which cause people to flee for their lives. The UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) did a great deal of work aimed at this before it was axed as a standalone department and merged with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 2020. DfID worked to strengthen the infrastructures of fragile countries in the hope of increasing stability there. The EU also has significant collective clout when it comes to global diplomacy, but Britain is no longer a member.

Enable safe, legal routes and refugee resettlement

Refugee resettlement is a safe way to airlift people out of conflict zones or neighbouring countries and allow them to begin a new life without having to deal with the many roadblocks in the current asylum system. However, refugee resettlement is only offered to a very small number of people fleeing conflict. Despite the promise of more safe routes, the number of people resettled under the government’s UK resettlement scheme was 1,171 in the 12 months to September 2021, down by about 45% year on year. Operation Pitting airlifted 15,000 people out of Afghanistan this year and the UK government resettled around 5,000 Syrians a year following the Syrian conflict. Refugee charities are calling for these schemes to be expanded.

Process UK humanitarian visas on French soil

UK officials already staff a border in France. Charities say that asylum seekers in northern France hoping to reach the UK to claim asylum should be able to register their claim with UK officials and then be placed on ferries to be brought to the UK while their claim is processed. If such a scheme was adopted it would achieve what the government has repeatedly promised to do: smash the business model of the people smugglers.

Overhaul the asylum system

Delays in processing asylum claims are at record levels, with the number of people waiting six months or more for an initial decision on their claim rising by 5% to 56,520. Previously the Home Office had a target to process the majority of straightforward claims within six months. It dropped that target in 2019 saying officials wanted to focus on prioritising the most vulnerable asylum seekers. The majority of asylum claims are found to be legitimate according to the Home Office figures released on Thursday. Almost two-thirds (64%) of asylum claims ended in a grant of protection. Of those rejected that then went on to appeal, 48% were successfully overturned. The scale of the delays leads to the perception of the system being overwhelmed; experts say it doesn’t have to be.


Diane Taylor

The GuardianTramp

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