As those who campaign on behalf of asylum-seeking refugees point out, there is a fundamental fallacy at the heart of the Home Office policy spelt out by Immigration Minister Chris Philp (see the parliamentary exchanges here). 

Mr Philp refers to “illegally facilitated crossings” and to “illegal migrant routes”, but describes the migrants/refugees themselves as “vulnerable people” being “exploited”. The problem for him and his policy is that, although facilitation is no doubt illegal on both sides of the Channel, claiming asylum on arrival is not – and neither is the manner of entry a valid ground for rejection of an asylum claim. 

Mr Philp boasts of 20,000 people being granted asylum or protection – “one of the highest figures in Europe”. How many of those arrived without illegal facilitation of some kind? If only 155 Channel-crossers have been sent back “since last January” (it’s not clear whether he meant January 2020 or 2019), that suggests that most have legitimate asylum claims which are eventually upheld.  Or, if not, then the stated policy of returning failed applicants is surely not being implemented in the majority of cases. 

Pett Level Beach – scene of recent cross-Channel landings
PICTURE: Andreia Loureiro

Evidence from Care4Calais

HIP asked Hastings & Rye MP Sally-Ann Hart last week following the parliamentary exchanges to comment further on these issues. She has not been forthcoming. However Clare Moseley, based in Calais and founder of the support group Care4Calais, was more responsive. 

On the suggestion that migrants/refugees are being “exploited” by criminal gangs into making crossings that they otherwise wouldn’t, Ms Moseley referred to “the system failure that provides a business model for people smugglers to exist.  If there was a safe and legal route, this would put the people smugglers out of business and many problems would be solved. Blaming people smugglers for the failure of the system is nothing more than a distraction.

Blaming people smugglers for the failure of the system is nothing more than a distraction

“It’s critical to remember that between three and four times more people claim asylum in France every year than do in the UK. There are many refugees all over France claiming asylum – it’s only the ones around the Calais and Dunkirk areas that are trying to get to the UK.  

“Research shows that the top reason for people moving on to the UK is having family here – family ties run deep. Other factors are more practical: for example, if you speak English you have more chance of being able to find a job and you can navigate everyday tasks like understanding public transport or going shopping.”

Hastings Community of Sanctuary

With regard to the lurid allegations made by MPs Giles Watling and Natalie Elphicke – of pregnant migrants being forced on board at gunpoint, and of threats to throw children into the water to drown unless allowed to proceed to British waters – Felicity Laurence, who leads on Communications and Campaigns for the local refugee support group, Hastings Community of Sanctuary, is sceptical.

“We have been unable to find any corroboration of such allegations,” she says, “and in my view it seems irresponsible to repeat such claims in Parliament or indeed any public sphere without watertight, documented evidence which should have been explicitly referenced. The implication apparently intended to be given is that such incidents – if indeed they have taken place at all – are somehow typical of the Channel crossings under discussion. According to all the evidence we have, this is unquestionably not the case.”

Covid-19

Home Office statistics have been released showing that, although there had been a general upward trend in the number of asylum applications since mid-2018, the number of applications fell sharply following the Covid-19 lockdown. In the four weeks prior to 23rd March, there were around 2,500 applications, however in the next four weeks of lockdown there were less than 800, a fall of 69%.

On the other hand, according to the Care4 Calais website, conditions for would-be Channel-crossers in Northern France have worsened. In the tight lockdown imposed there by President Macron, the few volunteers who were left on the ground were doing their best to support the homeless population with dwindling supplies, only providing basic food and water through heavy PPE equipment. A Government promise of housing for those living on the streets has yet to appear, and the lack of basic sanitation plus inability to self-isolate have added to the daily challenges. 


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