The UK and France have unveiled fresh plans to curb the numbers of migrants crossing the Channel.
Words by Ali Abdi
Under the terms of the deal, the British government will pay €72.2m to France for a 40% increase in French border officials patrolling the border. The deal also allows for the first time, British officials will be permitted to observe French operations, and cooperation between the two countries will be boosted. An increase in payments from the UK to France for bolstered numbers of French officers patrolling the border, from
Pressure on the Home Office to get a grip on the situation surrounding small boat channel crossings has grown in recent weeks after it was revealed that the Manston facility, a short-term asylum processing centre, was dangerously overcrowded amidst claims that the home secretary, Suella Braverman, had ignored legal advice to provide urgent alternative accommodation.
David Neal, Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, was left “speechless” at the “wretched conditions” of Manston, where some 4,000 people were being held at the facility designed to hold only 1,600.
Asylum seekers are only to be held at Manston for 24 hours while they undergo checks, before being moved on to immigration detention centres or asylum hotels, but Neal revealed some families were being held there unlawfully for over a month. Neal also expressed alarm over the understaffing afflicting overwhelmed workers, and the outbreak of diseases such as diphtheria and scabies at the facility.
The number of people risking their lives crossing the Channel has surpassed 40,000 so far this year, up from 28,526 in 2021.
Referring to the increase in small boat crossings, home secretary Suella Braverman described an “invasion of our southern coast” – prompting fresh criticism from commentators and charities over the use of inflammatory language.
Speaking on BBC’s Question Time, George the Poet, a musician and social activist, observed: “This is language that justifies violence against asylum seekers and refugees. It is completely devoid of its global context.”
Dr. James Hampshire, Professor of Politics with expertise in migration studies, noted that: “The Home Secretary’s ‘invasion’ comment is straight out of the playbook of the far-right: it’s a deliberate attempt to whip up fear that dehumanises vulnerable people who are in need of help.”
The fact that Braverman’s comments came just a day after a man “motivated by a terrorist ideology” threw petrol bombs at a Dover immigration centre has raised more eyebrows, especially given that Braverman was herself advised by top legal officials that inflammatory immigration rhetoric could inspire a far-right terrorist attack while she served as Attorney General in 2020.
The advice came from government lawyers following an alleged terror plot against a law firm in September 2020, after Priti Patel, then home secretary, had claimed that “activist lawyers” were interfering with the government’s plans to deport failed asylum seekers.
“No Home Secretary who was serious about public safety or national security would use highly inflammatory language on the day after a dangerous petrol bomb attack,” remarked Yvette Cooper, shadow home secretary.
The UK Refugee Council tweeted: “To describe the serious and complex situation created by the asylum crisis as an “invasion” is appalling, wrong and dangerous. These are men, women and children fleeing war, persecution and conflict.”
Criticisms of the government’s approach are not limited to these shores. At a periodic review of the UK’s human rights record at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, several allies expressed deep disquiet about the UK’s plans to overhaul the Human Rights Act and deport asylum seekers to Rwanda. The United States, Canada, Germany, Belgium and New Zealand were among the nations who questioned the UK’s commitment to the protection of human rights and said the UK risked violating international law with its Rwanda policy.
Dr. Hampshire similarly noted: “The Rwanda policy represents an abandonment of the UK’s responsibility to refugees and even on the government’s own terms it is unlikely to work in reducing the number of people who cross the channel.”
Despite legal challenges halting the implementation of the Rwanda policy, the government remains undeterred. As reports emerge of similar deals being negotiated with the likes of Belize, Paraguay and Peru, a government spokesman recently confirmed that, “We do plan to negotiate similar deals with other countries, akin to the Rwanda partnership.”
The mess is partly of the government’s own making, say commentators. Only 4% of the asylum applications received in 2021 have so far been processed, as slow decision times contribute to a backlog of around 160,000 applications. According to the Refugee Council, claimants wait on average between one and three years for decisions to be made, during which they are not allowed to work.
“The negative impact on mental health as well as the waste of human capital is upsetting,” noted David Neal in The Sunday Times.
Derek Wyatt, former Conservative MP, noted in the Financial Times that: “Refugees need to be allowed to work. There are any number of tech solutions in the marketplace to enable them to log in or be tracked on a daily basis.”
Tackling the backlog must be a priority, says David Neal, though it is by no means simple. “Asylum decision-making must strike a balance between speed and quality. Poor decisions are likely to lead to legal challenges, which create delays, prolong uncertainty and increase costs. Getting decisions right first time is crucial.”
Retaining staff and improving standards should also be of prime concern, Neal says. “In my inspection of asylum casework, I found poor morale among decision-makers, a high employee attrition rate, unstable management and no service standard against which to measure performance.”
In an effort to tackle the problem, the Government is guilty of providing little guidance to inexperienced and unqualified workers, an investigation by the Guardian revealed. New recruits reportedly “have no prior experience or knowledge of the asylum system. Many are placed on rolling, temporary contracts, typically for three months. Despite being promised comprehensive training, decision-makers report being “left to fend for themselves” after two days, and having to conduct complex interviews and make “life or death” decisions.”
Enver Solomon, chief executive of the charity Refugees Council, suggested that this is all part of the ‘hostile environment’ policy. “Ministers have deliberately focused on making the system harsh and austere rather than focusing on putting resources and capacity in place to treat people with compassion and respect.”
On the government’s approach moving forward, Dr. James Hampshire noted: “An approach that focuses on hard border controls will either not work or will only work with significant loss of life. The best way to disincentivise unsafe crossings is to create safe and legal routes to asylum. Rather than whipping up hatred, the Home Secretary could explain the facts and values that underpin the principle of asylum.”
Between June 2021 and June 2022, the Home Office granted asylum to over three-quarters (76%) of applicants. “In other words, they are found by the British government to be in genuine need of protection as refugees,” said Dr. Hampshire.