The tragic news broke that at least 27 people died in the Channel as they tried to reach the UK in a small inflatable boat on Wednesday. Reports confirmed that the tragedy is the deadliest day of the ‘Channel crisis.’ The 27 people, including at least one pregnant woman and three children, were mostly Kurds from Iraq or Iran.
The ‘Channel crisis’ when referring to the movement of people into the UK to claim asylum is a misnomer. The real crisis is the UK government’s complicity—their policy and actions have directly led to these avoidable deaths.
As recently reported on the Justice Gap here, Home Secretary Priti Patel, without any supporting evidence, inaccurately asserted in the House of Commons that ‘70% of people crossing are single men and they are economic migrants’. Patel said this in response to being confronted with statistics from research conducted from the Refugee Council that two thirds of people arriving in the UK via small boats are deemed to be genuine refugees.
Helpfully, the Home Office published their official statistics relating to asylum seekers for this year (reporting from September 2020 – September 2021) yesterday. If Patel’s assertion was true and 70% of people crossing the Channel are ‘economic migrants’, the official statistics may potentially show:
- A decrease in the number of asylum applications – as Patel brashly asserts, individuals are crossing for financial benefit, not to claim asylum; and
- A decrease in the number of successful asylum claims at first instance and on appeal – as if the ‘economic migrants’ claimed asylum, their claims would be unsuccessful.
Predictably, the statistics completely contradict the Home Secretary’s baseless assertion.
There has been a 20% increase of the number of total asylum applications from last year – increasing from 28,627 in 2020 to 34,377 this year.
The Home Office’s evidence states that almost all of the individuals arriving in the UK on small boats through the Channel claim asylum.
The grant rate for initial decisions on asylum applications increased by 31% from last year –64% of people who applied were granted international protection this year. This year, of the 36% of people that had their initial asylum applications rejected initially, 48% overturned that decision on appeal—a 4% increase from last year.
Once the evidence is broken down, it is easy to spot how inaccurate the Home Secretary’s assertion that 70% of the people crossing the Channel are ‘economic migrants’.
In the Ministerial Code – the Code where the supposed standards of conduct expected of ministers are detailed – Annex A highlights the ‘Seven Principles of Public Life’, which include ‘selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.’ It is difficult to reconcile how Patel’s brazen lie, as clearly revealed by evidence published by her own department, regarding asylum seekers is anything but a clear breach of that code. The Home Secretary’s deceit and opacity, although extremely worrying, is not new. Patel had to resign as the UK international development secretary in 2017 for her unauthorised meetings with Israeli officials.
As such, it is no surprise that the Home Secretary used the tragedy in the Channel to peddle her unlawful rhetoric whilst simultaneously feigning sympathy.
My thoughts are with the families of all of those who have tragically lost their lives in French waters today.
It serves as the starkest possible reminder of the dangers of these Channel crossings organised by ruthless criminal gangs.
— Priti Patel (@pritipatel) November 24, 2021
Other Conservative MPs, such as Scott Benton highlighted that the tragedy underlines ‘why we need to do everything possible to make these dangerous routes unviable’, including scrapping the Human Rights Act.
Pushing for an unviable Channel route only exacerbates the issue. As confirmed by the official statistics, the people on the boats are asylum seekers lawfully fleeing persecution to claim asylum in the UK. Perilous journeys across the Channel are necessary because of the government failing to provide safe and legal routes to claim asylum in the UK.
Now is not the time for crocodile tears, if Patel truly wants to protect against ‘ruthless criminal gangs’, she should provide routes so asylum seekers are not forced into their hands in desperation without any alternative.
Moreover, the government often assert that asylum seekers ought to claim asylum in the first country they come through – so as these people are coming from France, they cannot be asylum seekers. This is legally inaccurate. Nothing in the Refugee Convention suggests that an asylum seeker must claim asylum in the first ‘safe country’ in which they arrive. This notion in the Refugee Convention is confirmed in the case of R v Uxbridge Magistrates Court (ex parte Adimi)where the judge confirmed that ‘some element of choice is indeed open to refugees as to where they may properly claim asylum.’
In addition to being legally inaccurate, the government’s argument of ‘first safe country’ is illogical. As Zoe Garden of Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants puts it ‘If everybody is supposed to stay in France because we are slightly to the west of France and France could say the same thing to Italy, and then Italy can say the same thing to Libya and then in the end the entire international refugee protection regime will crumble.’
The government’s response after the tragedy in the Channel has been wholly inadequate. Asylum seekers fleeing persecution will go to great lengths to reach sanctuary. As British-Somali poet Warsan Shire puts it ‘no-one puts their child in a boat unless the water is safer than land’.
Continued plans to make the route unviable will lead to more dangerous journeys and more tragedies in the Channel, not less.