THE MIGRANTS’ Rights Network (MRN) is deeply concerned about the Home Office’s proposed condemnation and treatment of so-called ‘illegal’ migrants.
Tory Home Secretary Priti Patel is planning the use of nets to prevent refugees from crossing the English Channel in small boats to the UK to claim asylum.
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, the Home Office Clandestine Channel Threat Commander, Dan O’Mahoney, said nets could be used to clog propellers and bring boats to a standstill as they attempt the crossing over the Dover Strait.
Former Royal Marine O’Mahoney, who was appointed to the new post by Patel in August, told the Telegraph: ‘It’s that type of thing, yes. So, safely disabling the engine and then taking the migrants onboard our vessel.’
MRN says that this undermines the UK’s international legal obligations – including under the European Convention of Human Rights (Art.3) – to non-refoulement, to provide safe legal routes into a country, the right to freedom of movement and to claim asylum.
While the number of people being forced to take unsafe routes to the UK by boat has recently increased, the overall number of asylum claims in the UK has been falling.
Rossella Pagliuchi-Lor, UNHCR representative to the UK, calculates that asylum claim numbers fell by 37% in the second quarter of 2020 compared to that of 2019.
In the year until June 2020, the UK received over 92,600 fewer applications than Germany, over 55,000 fewer than France and Spain and over 25,000 fewer than Greece.
In the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee hearing on 30 September, Committee Chair Yvette Cooper MP asked: ‘Could you tell us your assessment of the reasons behind the increase in the crossings that we have seen, Ms Pagliuchi-Lor?’
Pagliuchi-Lo answered: ‘First, I would like to place that in a slightly broader context, in the sense that the increase in the number of crossings of the Channel has corresponded to a decrease in the number of arrivals through other routes, so the overall number of arrivals up to this point is actually lower than in the same period last year.
‘That shift is most likely due to the fact that other routes have become less available, either because of Covid, which has of course stopped air travel, for example, and reduced overland transport, or possibly because there has been a significant increase in the securitisation of, for example, transport over road.
‘I am afraid it is a fairly constant phenomenon that when you block one route, there is a movement towards new routes. Of course, it is a very worrisome route because of the inherent danger to life it implies.’
Cooper pressed her: ‘What is the UNHCR’s assessment of the main things that need to be done to address the risks from those dangerous crossings?’
Pagliuchi-Lor answered: ‘I will start by addressing a somewhat different kind of risk, which is the one that is generated by the sort of narrative that we are seeing in the media and elsewhere suggesting that the arrivals by boat represent an almost existential danger or threat to the UK.
‘In fact, as I said, it is simply a different route and the people who you will find on the boats are pretty much the same as you would have found otherwise on the back of a lorry.
‘There is no real difference in that. The main risk is to themselves in relation to the danger of the crossing,’ she concluded.
‘This is not a new crisis; there’s no need to make policy decisions on the basis of panic,’ stresses the MRN.
‘An overhaul of the asylum system is absolutely necessary but for it to be effective and humane, we need to focus on compassionate policies.
‘Moving asylum seekers offshore, for example, will not affect the UK’s legal responsibility to people in need. We do not want to turn the clock back on the progress we’ve made.
‘The Home Secretary herself was part of the Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry in November 2019 that found 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.”
‘It will not comprehensively make sea routes “unviable,” as the Home Secretary is hoping.
‘Deterring dangerous journeys will only be achieved when, amongst other actions, we strengthen legal pathways like refugee resettlement and family reunion which allow refugees to come to the UK in safety and obtain the support needed for their inclusion in our communities.
‘Working with the UK’s European partners to provide safe, legal routes is crucial for preventing people seeking asylum being left with no option but to take unsafe migration routes by sea.
‘Criminalising and denying vulnerable and exploited individuals seeking asylum in the UK on the basis of the route they have in some cases been forced to take goes against the “fair” nature of the “fair borders bill” proposed.
‘Through the community sponsorship programme and other schemes, Britons have demonstrated their compassion and eagerness to make space for refugees/migrants in their local area.
‘The latest policies proposed by the Home Secretary simultaneously ignore the many that recognise the importance of diverse and widely skilled communities and undermines the international legal obligations that the UK is bound to uphold.’
Commenting on the Channel crossings, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said: ‘This year the situation has also been particularly desperate for many seeking refuge as the Syrian resettlement programme closed in March, many have been evicted from camps in Calais and the pandemic has plunged many into great need.
‘The number of people travelling to the UK is still relatively small – France, Germany, Greece and Italy all receive more asylum claims.
‘Why don’t people seeking asylum come to the UK “legally”?
‘Unfortunately, asylum claims cannot be made from outside the UK so people are forced into making dangerous crossings to seek refuge here. Almost no safe & legal routes to seek asylum in the UK exist.
‘Using irregular means to enter the UK does not impinge on your right to apply for asylum here. This right is enshrined in the 1951 Refugee Convention.
‘What should the government do to end dangerous crossings?
‘To prevent dangerous crossings, we need safe and legal routes of entry to the UK, including:
- Humanitarian visas – these would grant people papers for safe passage to the UK;
- Asylum claims centres abroad – these could process asylum claims in France for example;
- Resettlement programmes – transfer recognised refugees from an asylum country like Syria to a third country like the UK;
‘• Expanded family reunion rules – allowing refugees to join non-refugee family in the UK.’