Channel crossings - time to set the record straight - Refugee Council
January 3, 2019

Channel crossings – time to set the record straight

As people crossing the Channel dominates the news agenda for yet another day, we try and set the record straight, separating the truths from the myths…

These people are arriving illegally aren’t they? Why should we let them stay?

 The sad reality is these people—who have survived war, conflict and persecution in countries like Syria, Iran, Afghanistan and Eritrea—have no choice but to take extreme and dangerous steps to find safety.  For many people seeking asylum it’s simply not possible to travel using their passport.

How they reach the UK doesn’t matter at all when it comes to their right to claim asylum or the perceived strength of their claim. Nor should the fact that they may have passed through several other countries along the way. They still have every right to claim asylum here.

And it is not just charities like ours who say this—it is enshrined in international human rights law that the UK government fully supports. If you don’t believe us you can read it in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights or in the 1951 Refugee Convention.

The Home Secretary has called this a major incident—does that mean that there are tons of people trying to arrive here on boats?

 No, it doesn’t at all—Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary, has overreacted by calling this a major incident. There has been an increase in the numbers of people trying to reach the UK by boat, but we are still talking about a very small number of people.

For example, in our centre in Dover for lone child refugees, our busiest month for a while was last November when we saw just 31 lone child refugees in total arriving. These numbers are still much lower than those we saw in 2015 and 2016.

The numbers are particularly tiny when you think about just how big the UK is—we have a population of 66.9 million people, a figure that grew by 385,000 in the last year. Ours is in the fact the world’s 5th strongest economy. 

Let us not forget that British asylum system is extremely tough. Just 30% of initial decisions made in the year to September 2018 have been grants of protection (asylum or humanitarian protection).

More generally, it’s really important to remember that the UK does not see anywhere near as many people claiming asylum as our European counterparts. In the year ending September 2018, Germany, Italy and France all received at least twice as many asylum applications as the UK. In Germany alone, a total of 160,600 asylum applications were made. Britain received around 6% of all asylum claims made in the EU during last year.

I don’t understand—France is a holiday destination! Can it really be true it’s so unsafe  that refugees can’t stay there?

Holiday destination it may be but it’s not a safe place for many people seeking asylum – for some of these people France is in fact incredibly unsafe. The French authorities have shown extreme violence against people who go to France from countries torn apart by war and violence in search of safety.

Evidence shows that makeshift migrant camps are razed to the ground. That is an important part of the reason why we are seeing people put their lives in real risk by getting into flimsy boats to leave France and cross the Channel.

Another reason why people try and reach the UK is that they already have family here and their instinct, as most people’s would be, tells them to try and unite with them. It’s also the case that people are most likely to have English as an additional language—so again, people’s instinct is to try and reach a country they have the best chance of surviving in.

If you were forced to leave your home for fear of your life, taking your children with you, wouldn’t you make do the same? You can read more on that in this Free Movement blog post.

What can Sajid Javid actually do?

Much more that he is doing at the moment! We are living through the most deadly refugee crisis since World War Two. Conflicts have killed and displaced literally millions of people—68.5 million to be precise. We could be helping far more of them than we are already. Given the size of our economy and resources, the support we have provided has been wholly inadequate, leaving us trailing behind our European counterparts. But Javid could:

  1. Introduce safe and legal routes to make it easier for refugee families to be reunited in Britain. He could do this by enabling the refugees who have already settled here to be given more rights to bring family members to the UK from overseas. Our current refugee family reunion policies are far too restrictive, but with the stroke of a pen he could change them.
  2. He could bolster our resettlement programme. Resttlement schemes save lives—for example the resettlement scheme for Syrian refugees introduced by David Cameron has saved the lives of nearly 14,000 people. This is amazing but we need to see this continue and for Javid to commit to expanding this scheme beyond 2020.
  3. People are only able to claim asylum to the UK when they are physically in the UK which is why they make desperate, often fatal journeys to reach British soil. But it doesn’t have to be this way—humanitarian visas would enable a refugee to start their asylum claim while still overseas. You can read more about humanitarian visas here.