Channel crossings: it’s time to set the record straight - Refugee Council
August 21, 2020

Channel crossings: it’s time to set the record straight

People seeking safety in the UK should be met with compassion, not hostility. In response to widespread misinformation on this topic, we’d like to set out the truth about people who cross the Channel to seek asylum in the UK. Read our FAQs below.

Why do people come to claim asylum in the UK? 

In 2019, 79.5 million people were forcibly displaced across the world. These people had to leave their homes to seek safety from war, persecution, discrimination and violence. This is the highest number ever recorded, and it has doubled in the last decade. 80% of the world’s displaced people are located in states or territories affected by acute food insecurity and malnutrition, and 40% of displaced people are children.

More than three-quarters (77%) of the world’s refugees are caught up in situations of long-term displacement, e.g. the situation in Afghanistan entered into its fifth decade and global conflicts are becoming increasingly protracted, like the civil war in Syria or the increasing instability in the Equatorial Africa and South-East Asia. 

How many people come to the UK to seek asylum? 

In 2019, 35,566 asylum applications were made in the UK. 142,500 were made in Germany, 123,900 in France, 118,300 in Spain and 74,900 in Greece. Just a tiny fraction of the refugees who come to Europe claim asylum in the UK. 

People seeking asylum in the UK have to comply with stringent immigration rules and meet a high evidential threshold in order to be successful. Furthermore, flawed Home Office decision making leads to many cases being overturned at appeal stage. In the year to March 2020, 45% of asylum appeals were allowed (the highest figure in a decade). 

Finally, let’s not forget that 85% of the world’s refugees are hosted in developing countries. The proportion of refugees that travel to Europe is tiny, and an even smaller proportion claim asylum in the UK. 

Why do people arrive here clandestinely? Why can’t they use the routes visitors use?

The sad reality is people seeking asylum – who have survived war, conflict and persecution in countries like Syria, Iran, Afghanistan and Eritrea – have no choice but to take extreme and dangerous journeys to find safety. For most of them, it’s simply not possible to travel using their passport. They might no longer have one or would not be issued with it when they apply.

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.  The right to claim asylum is enshrined in the 1951 Refugee Convention and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

The Home Secretary said we need to take back control of our border – is that because there are lots of people trying to arrive here on small boats?

We are not under siege. People should not be prevented from making asylum claims, and it is wrong to cast judgement about the merits of those claims before they can be properly assessed, in accordance with the law. 

Recently there has been an increase in the number of people trying to reach the UK by boat, but we are still talking about a very small number of people. Estimates suggest that close to 4,000 people have successfully crossed to date in 2020; that is equivalent to 0.006% of the UK population. 

The key factors driving the increase in the Channel crossings are: the increased security at other access points, such as ferry ports and the Channel Tunnel, and the lower number of lorries coming into the UK as a result of Covid-19 restrictions. New arrivals are making themselves known to authorities, in order to make an asylum claim, and they continue to comply with the Home Office rules and the UK immigration law. 

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

France does not feel like a safe place for many people seeking asylum. There have been reports of extreme violence against people seeking asylum in France. Many of the makeshift migrant camps have been  razed to the ground.

Some people seeking asylum have family in the UK, and are desperate to reunite with them. Restrictive family reunion rules mean that they’re blocked from making the journey safely, and often resort to dangerous journeys such as crossing the Channel in small boats. Many people seeking asylum want to come to the UK because they can speak English, and feel that this will help them find work and settle into society. 

What should the Government do now?

Given the size of our economy and resources, we could and should be doing much more. In the UK we pride ourselves on protecting the rule of law and human rights and being a champion on a global stage; now it’s a time to put these words into action. The Government could:

1.  Introduce safe and regular routes to make it easier for refugee families to be reunited in Britain. The Home Secretary could do this by giving refugees who have already settled here the right to bring family members to the UK from overseas, and changing the cruel rules which are separating refugee children from their families. Our refugee family reunion policies are far too restrictive, but you can help us change this by supporting our Families Together campaign. 

2. Bolster our resettlement programme. The resettlement scheme for Syrian refugees  has saved the lives of more than 20,000 since it began in 2015. The Government has now committed to resettling another 5,000 refugees during 2020-21 through a new single, consolidated scheme, but they are yet to commit any long term funding for the programme.

3.  People can only  claim asylum in the UK when they are physically here, which is why they make desperate, often fatal journeys to reach British soil.  It doesn’t have to be this way – humanitarian visas would enable refugees to start their asylum claim before they travel here.

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