Briefing: Safe and Legal Routes to the UK | Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants

Over the course of August 2020, media coverage of Channel crossings has increased significantly, drawing attention to the plight of those seeking refuge in the UK. In response to the number of crossings, Ministers have proposed measures aimed at making the route “unviable” and restricting the ability of asylum-seekers to exercise their legal right to apply for asylum in the UK.

The government has instructed the use of the Navy and of RAF planes to carry out surveillance and rescue in the Channel. While we do not object to the use of the Navy to conduct search and rescue missions, it is vital that the Navy is not used to interfere in the asylum process and are not asked to breach international refugee or maritime law by ‘pushing back’ boats seeking to reach our shores. The deployment is a temporary and costly fix which will not decrease the risk of dangerous crossings.

Over the last 5 years, civil society has warned that attempts to make the route “unviable,” including the closure of refugee camps in Calais and increasingly restricted routes of entry to the UK, would lead to an increase in dangerous journeys and an increased reliance on traffickers and people smugglers. In 2019, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee warned that “a policy that focuses exclusively on closing borders will drive migrants to take more dangerous routes, and push them into the hands of criminal groups.” We are disappointed that the UK Government is continuing to pursue this failed approach despite copious evidence, and despite advice presented by the Select Committee and a host of civil society organisations. 

We note that this pattern of ignoring expert advice, failing to engage with civil society and branding migrants as “criminal” regardless of their legal rights is the same set of conditions which led to the Windrush scandal. A key recommendation from the Windrush Lessons Learned Review urged government to implement policies based on evidence and transparent decision-making. 

It is clear that there are far more pragmatic solutions which would allow the Government to bring an end to dangerous crossings, whilst also protecting the rights of those seeking asylum.
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