Author-Damon Culbert, Axis Solicitors
Following a meeting with French counterpart Christophe Castaner, Home Secretary Priti Patel stated that the UK and France would be investing more in policing along the French border to prevent people making the crossing on small, unsafe boats. Patel asserted that the UK would “not let ruthless gangs of criminal people smugglers continue to put lives in danger”, which migrant rights campaigners everywhere will be happy to hear. However, simply cracking down on the crossings and expanding police surveillance will not deal with the root issue which leads migrants into the hands of criminals in the first place.
Attempted illegal crossings from France to the UK are on the rise, with more making the journey in the first half of 2019 than the whole of 2018. With more crossings being carried out, the dangerous nature of the journey is being highlighted. August this year saw the first recorded death as a result of an attempted crossing when an Iranian national was found off the coast of Belgium wearing a makeshift floatation device made from plastic bottles and swimming flippers.
However, for all the concern and attention paid to the Channel, 543 people made it across in 2018, representing less than 2% of all asylum applications made throughout the year. To focus on those being trafficked in highly unsafe conditions and make their lives increasingly difficult without providing any other humane, legal routes to apply for asylum is irresponsible. If the government is interested in protecting the lives of vulnerable asylum seekers, there needs to be both a hardline approach to smuggling and compassionate consideration for those putting their lives at risk on the journey.
Priti Patel’s time as Home Secretary
Though Patel has only been a part of the current government a short while, it’s clear that the Home Secretary is attempting to leave a mark on the office as quickly as possible. Along with this announcement, Patel was recently in the news claiming that freedom of movement would end immediately on Brexit day, October 31st. This claim has now been withdrawn following multiple recommendations by legal advisers that implementing this policy would simply be impossible in such a short time frame.
Given that such a major commitment by the Home Office was quickly dissolved by legal advice, it remains to be seen whether this policing policy will be as effective as it is expected to be in tackling the issue of dangerous migration.
The Dublin regulation
Brexit could also result in a number of issues which may make the situation at the border more difficult. The Dublin regulation is part of EU law and involves policy on refugee family reunification. Current government outlook states that, in the event of a no-deal exit, the UK will no longer take part in the Dublin regulation. For all children and spouses of refugees currently in the UK, this means another safe and legal opportunity for humanitarian protection will be removed. While the government believes that its policy will reduce the number of people in danger, it could actually increase this number dramatically.
Additionally, the Dublin regulation states that asylum seekers must apply in the European country they first enter. Asylum seekers travelling from the French coast are then eligible to be returned to France or a previous country. While this isn’t always clear and some are unable to be returned, this again reduces the number eligible to apply in the UK. Once out of the EU, this number could increase, making applications more difficult for those with genuine claims.
Separate from the Dublin regulation, the Dubs agreement was implemented to support lone child migrants in precarious situations. The government agreed that 480 children would be relocated to the UK under this regulation from places like Greece and France where they were alone in migrant camps. Since its introduction in 2016, only around 250 places have actually been filled, showing that the UK is failing its commitment to protecting children displaced from their homes.
The Court of Appeal also found last year that, in many cases, the government had acted unlawfully in their treatment of children under the Dubs agreement by not providing written decisions or proper grounds for refusal. This meant that many applicants were unable to appeal and were left to fend for themselves in highly vulnerable situations. Though this was the fault of the government under Theresa May, the current administration is yet to show any improvement or consideration for those most at risk.
The government cannot claim that the protection of refugees and asylum seekers is a top priority when the opportunity to support and provide for lone children is being treated with such disregard.
Crisis of safety
543 people crossed the channel in 2018 with traffickers charging £5,000-£10,000 per person. This amounts to a minimum of £2,715,000 and a maximum of £5,430,000 in profit for criminal organisations. More than 500 have already made the journey in 2019 so far and an unknown number have paid their way and not survived to see the end.
Trafficking of migrants is an important issue which needs to be tackled but simply increasing police presence will not stop those desperate enough from persisting.