Channel crossings and the Borders and Nationality Bill

In recent weeks, the UK government has been quite “busy” dealing with a number of national scandals. It is possible that many of us might have forgotten that at the moment, MPs are debating the Borders and Nationality Bill, which has previously received a lot of media and political attention.

In the last few days, I found a very interesting report produced by the Refugee Council. The latest official statistics show that in the year ending June 2021, 37,235 people applied for asylum in the UK, 4% decrease on the previous year. What has changed significantly is the method of traveling; from freight transit to Channel boat crossing.

So, what are the key findings of the report?

  • 70% of the total people number of people arriving to the UK via small boats, from January 2020 to May 2020, 12,195 people in total, came only from 5 countries of origin: Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria and Vietnam
  • Iranian nationals accounted for 26% of all arrivals
  • On average, 98% of people who arrive after crossing the channel in a small boat make a claim for asylum
  • Over 91% of the total small boat arrivals (11,123 people) came from just ten countries of origin including Afghanistan, the 7th highest nationality of all small boat arrivals.

Most people would be aware that there are limited alternative ‘safe routes’ available for many of the top nationalities crossing the Channel. What is quite interesting, the UK did not resettle a single person from Kuwait, Yemen or Vietnam in the period January 2020 to May 2021 and only one person from Iran was resettled and Iranians are the top nationality for people crossing the Channel.

It is worth adding that a lot has changed since the UK left the EU. From 31 December 2020, a new Immigration Rule has been in place that means the UK government can class someone’s asylum claim as inadmissible if they have travelled through, or have a connection to, what is deemed a third safe country. The new rules also give the Home Office the power to remove people seeking asylum to a safe country that agrees to receive them, even if they have never been there or have any connections to it.

I found staggering the government and Home Office’s claim that the majority of people crossing the Channel are economic migrants. I was pleased that the Refugee Council challenges this narrative. The ongoing war in e.g. Syria and Afghanistan, instability in so many parts of the Middle East, mean that people are often forced to flee. They have no choice but to leave the countries of their origins. As a Polish national, I consider myself an economic migrant. The difference is huge; I can safely return to Poland at any time. Most people crossing the channel cannot. It is also worth reminding ourselves that countries such as Pakistan and Lebanon have taken more than 4 million refugees from Afghanistan or Syria (2 million each).

The report is “re-assuring”; the immigration system in the UK has to change. It lacks a human element. Moreover, it is complex, disorganized and chaotic. The migration, via legal or illegal routes, will continue. We ALL need to continue looking for an effective solution to tackle this huge global issue.

The whole report can be found here.

* Michal Siewniak is a Lib Dem activist and councillor for Handside ward, Welwyn Hatfield.

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  • Brad Barrows 13th Dec '21 - 1:30pm

    I am surprised that only 98% of those who cross the Channel in small boats claim asylum – surely all of them realise that they have no legal basis to enter the UK unless they intend to claim asylum, so I assume the 2% just choose to disappear inside the country and try to avoid detection and expulsion.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 13th Dec '21 - 3:23pm

    Good article as often from a writer I regard.

    But we ought, as internationally minded, also be prepared to ask questions of and make criticism of foreign powers and resulting practices as well as rightly, be full of staunch criticism of the Uk govt.

    So, why do people leave a safe country to risk the boat trip to here?

    Mythology says they have contacts here. Is it factual?

    It is, I reckon, because countries we over rate, in the over rated EU, like France, yes good chums, are not very pleasant to their refugees on arrival, or are encouraging officially or not, these arriovals to leave, even by boat to the UK?

    If that is not so, why do we thus not criticise people who rightly and bravely leave a dangerous country, but do not value the legal and welcomr settlement in the first safe one?

    Why presume , better to ask.

    I presume people who leave a dangerous country are plucky, courageous people.

    I do not presume they are then right to leave say, another European one, for trying to come to the UK by another dangerous method.

    As with most areas of cvoncern, we have a one sided view from all sides of politics. We are evidence based but always take a side too soon or too vehemently.

  • Steve Trevethan 13th Dec '21 - 3:50pm

    How many of the countries listed have been destabilised or/and attacked by the USA and us?
    As we have a lot of responsibility for this chronic disaster, might we do more to address it?
    Might we remind the government of the USA of the 1821 speech of it its statesman John Quincy Adams entitled “In search of Monsters to Destroy”. In it he stated that the USA must not interfere in the matters of other states.

  • Interesting article. I would like to respond though to @Steve Trevethan’s comment that tries to blame the West for the crisis.

    Let’s see…. Vietnam, ruled by an authoritarian Communist Government for 45 years without any significant interference by the West (yes, awful war before then, but rather implausible that refugees today would be coming because of a war 50 years ago).
    Sudan… Civil war in the South, appalling ethnic cleansing, and an unstable transition towards democracy in the North. Pretty much all caused by internal groups in Sudan.
    Iran… Ruled by an Islamic dictatorship with an awful human rights record for 40 years. The main conflict during that time was an invasion by Iraq under Saddam Hussein.
    Syria… ruled by the Assads with an appalling human rights record since 1970. Civil war for the last 10 years during which the West largely refused to help the democratic forces, and then Russia intervened to prop up the dictatorship.
    And that leaves Iraq, where Saddam Hussein had invaded two neighbouring countries and dropped chemical weapons on his own citizens – only removed when we invaded (nearly 20 years ago) to remove his regime. Result: Iraq, almost uniquely in the Arab world, is now a functioning (albeit somewhat unstable) democracy. Also noteworthy that the worst human rights abuses there over the last 10 y ears were because of an entirely home-grown Islamic terror group (IS).

    Obviously, it would be wrong to deny that there was some involvement by the West at various times, but at the same time, it really astonishes me how some people still try to blame the West for everything, as if the actions of local dictators and terrorist groups etc. have nothing to do with the situation in those countries.

  • Brad, it’s also possible that those disappearing into the black economy are less likely to be on the refugee council’s radar and therefore not included in the study.

  • Peter Hirst 14th Dec '21 - 2:53pm

    Asylum can only be tackled globally, something this government can’t and won’t consider. Migrants are dependent on the critieria each government imposes. As most illegal migrants claim asylum presumably they don’t or can’t make their residence claim as an economic migrant. It’s likely that a significant number would succeed in becoming economic migrant if there was a legal way for them to apply.

  • Steve Trevethan 14th Dec '21 - 6:41pm

    Might the attribution of some responsibility not be the same as blaming?
    Might the best indicator of good government be the socio-economic wellbeing of the generality of a population?
    Can anyone find data on states which have been affected by Western military involvement of which the inhabitants have become better off?
    Might some of the motivation/purpose of our military involvement be Western financial self-interest?

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