Titan submarine, Channel crossing and the Borders and Nationality Bill

I am an early bird. I usually wake up around 6am each day and without a need for caffeine, I am able to switch on my laptop and work almost immediately. My morning routine includes a cup of tea and … BBC Breakfast. Laptop on, TV on and I am ready to crack on!

In recent weeks, many of us were following closely a story of the missing submarine, Titan. It has dominated our screen for quite some time. I often wondered why are we so “obsessed” with it? Is it because it relates directly to the tragic story of the Titanic? Is it because we, as humans, like to push and challenge ourselves, explore areas of the planet, oceans, which seem to be unreachable? Or was it because of the social and financial status of individuals who tragically died?

One morning, as I was sitting in my living room, my wife made an interesting observation. The story of the Titan has captured the attention of the global audience. However, the story of a migrant boat that sank in Greek waters, almost the same week, has barely made the news, in comparison. Both stories have very different beginnings and yet, they both have the same end. The boat in Greece was overloaded, full of people, who were fleeing war, poverty and prosecution. The Titan looks small and tiny, however its passengers were billionaires with apparent “passion for exploration”. They each had to spend thousands of pounds to be part of that adventure. This was all happening during the Refugee Week, an initiative, which helps to address the challenges, promote and celebrate the achievements of refugees.

In recent weeks, months and years, the UK government has been quite “busy” dealing (or not) with the channel crossing. Only a year or so ago, MPs were debating the Borders and Nationality Bill, which has previously received a lot of media and political attention.

Quite recently, I came across a very interesting report produced by the Refugee Council. In the year ending June 2021, 37,235 people applied for asylum in the UK, a 4% decrease on the previous year. What has changed significantly is the method of traveling –  from freight transit to Channel boat crossing.

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. 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 human element. Moreover, it is complex, disorganized and chaotic. The migration, via legal or illegal routes, will continue. Way forward? I don’t have one, however it seems to me that we all need to continue looking for an effective solution to tackle this huge global issue.

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

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  • The Titan story caught the imagination because: a) Titanic; b) there was a chance at first they might still be alive; c) there was the ‘excitement’ of a rescue mission in a race against time, with air running out: d) the people on board were named, with photos and background details.
    But primarily, it was ‘c’ that gave it its value as a news story over many days.
    The Greek tragedy didn’t because: a) shipping disasters sadly aren’t uncommon*; b) it sank, there was no ongoing story; c) it’s harder to empathise with lots of un-named people. But primarily b.
    * Eg. A ferry sank off the coast of Indonesia in May 2022 – how much notice did the rest of the world take then?

  • Steve Trevethan 29th Jun '23 - 4:45pm

    Thank you for a timely and interesting article!
    Can those wishing to come to the U K register their request to so do on the mainland of Europe?
    Might there be a manipulation of entry procedures, protocols and the like for political purposes?

  • Mel Borthwaite 29th Jun '23 - 6:00pm

    I am really torn by the issue of illegal immigration. On the one side I fully understand why people would want to escape poverty and build better lives for themselves in a wealthy country. On the other hand, I am aware that many people are trying to get permission to live in the UK using the proper process and it instinctively feels wrong that people can evade those processes and get rewarded by being allowed to stay in the UK. I do realise that there are genuine asylum seekers but I also realise that a large proportion of those claiming asylum are merely using the system to their advantage. A real dilemma.

  • Martin Gray 29th Jun '23 - 6:08pm

    Immigration has regularly been one of voters top three concerns for a considerable period …
    In over a year’s time we’d better have in place a feasible policy that addresses those concerns .
    Moral outrage won’t cut it on the doorstep – and we’ll end up getting our answer at the ballot box ..

  • Nonconformistradical 29th Jun '23 - 8:28pm

    @Mel Borthwaite
    “I do realise that there are genuine asylum seekers but I also realise that a large proportion of those claiming asylum are merely using the system to their advantage. ”

    What do you mean by a large proportion? If that was true then a large proportion of claims for asylum would be rejected. Since there’s a massive backlog of claimants how are you going to prove your assertion? And it was being stated in the media today after the High Court ruling that most applications for asylum which are actually processed are granted.

    And unless a would-be asylum seeker has the necessary legal documents to get on a ferry or plane, then what legal routes to asylum in the UK are there available? There are even tory MPs who’ve been asking this question. I’m not aware that possession of a passport is a necessary qualification for claiming asylum.

  • @Mel Borthwaite – I’d be interested to hear what you believe the “proper process” actually is? Firstly, you can only claim asylum in the UK once you are actually here. Secondly, you can’t apply for a visa for the purpose of claiming asylum, and airlines won’t let you board a flight to the UK if you need a visa but don’t have one. That is why desperate refugees are paying people smugglers rather than British Airways (who are cheaper) as the system is designed not to work (with strictly limited exceptions eg from Ukraine).

    When you say a “large proportion of those claiming asylum are merely using the system to their advantage”, what is your evidence? For instance, 73% of asylum applications processed this year were granted – I would say 73% is a large proportion, and 27% is a minority.

  • Martin Gray 29th Jun '23 - 8:59pm

    @Nick & Nonconform…How many applications per year would you say is an acceptable number ..
    £millions per day spent on housing asylum seekers in hotels – proposed asylum centres – old army bases , ex uni halls of residence have all met with bitter opposition locally…1.1 million on the social housing register, private rents soaring – as affordable private accommodation becomes harder to find ..
    The system is unsustainable – so voters will want to know what we think is an acceptable number …
    As out canvassing – you’ll soon get your answer ..

  • George Thomas 29th Jun '23 - 11:28pm

    I fear that our government isn’t willing to invest in foreign aid, isn’t willing to invest in measures to keep a lid on climate crisis, isn’t willing to invest in services and infrastructure within the UK, isn’t willing to invest in migration services but is determined to ensure billionaires continue to exist.

    It’s so obviously going to create a more dangerous world where more and more people want to come to the UK – despite crumbling infrastructure, the climate of northern Europe will become the most habitable over next 50 years – and create a more unequal UK with huge numbers competing over limited resources.

    The fear of competing over dwindling resources was enough to lead to Brexit. What bad policy and bad times are we walking into while people with more money than sense dive to their deaths in unsafe machines or propose to stage a cage fight because they’re bored?

  • Steve Trêvethan 30th Jun '23 - 7:46am

    Might it help our country, the migrants and our party (alphabetical order), if our party were to produce a detailed analysis of this matter, including sound data, so that we all had a decent basis from which to converse and make plans/policies?

  • Peter Martin 30th Jun '23 - 9:40am

    “One morning, as I was sitting in my living room, my wife made an interesting observation…….”


  • Nigel Quinton 30th Jun '23 - 3:04pm

    There was a very interesting online discussion I watched earlier this year hosted by UK in a Changing Europe. One of the most insightful presentations was from James Kanagasooriam of Focaldata. Slides here: https://ukandeu.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/James-Kanagasooriam-.pdf.

    TLDR: Anti-immigration majorities are present in a majority of UK constituencies. It is the new Brexit dividing voters in favour of the anti-immigration party. The Tories want this issue to remain in the headlines. There is no incentive for them to solve anything, and the longer they can point the finger at lefty liberals preventing them ‘stopping the boats’ the better it is for winning under FPTP.

  • Re ‘stopping the boats’

    Nigel picks up on an important point, the real need is to stop the boats, neither the Conservative policy (send those who successfully cross the channel to wherever) nor the daft “throw the doors open wide” ideas will do this. To stop the boats we need to address the issues in the countries from which people are leaving, and ensure that events such as the boat sinking off Greece get wide publicity in revelant countries to discourage people from seeking out and paying the people traffickers.

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